Welsh woman, 108, becomes one of first care home residents to get jab

A 108-year-old woman has become one of the first care home residents in Wales to receive a Covid-19 vaccine.

Mary Keir, who lives at the Awel Tywi care home in Llandeilo, Carmarthenshire, was given a first dose of the Pfizer/BionTech vaccine shortly after 2.30pm on Thursday, December 17.

As Wales’ second oldest woman, Mrs Keir has now become the first care home resident in the Hywel Dda University Health Board region and indeed across south Wales to be vaccinated.

The vaccine was administered as part of a pilot being carried out by the health board – who manage health care in Carmarthenshire, Ceredigion and Pembrokeshire.

Previously, the only care home residents who have been given a Covid-19 vaccine are those who reside in a care home in Flintshire.

Mrs Keir, who is a retired nurse, was more than willing to be immunised, and she was equally keen to discuss the process once she had received the vaccine.

Mary Keir, a resident at Awel Tywi care home in Llandeilo, is the first care home resident to be receive the Covid-19 vaccine in south Wales
(Image: Hywel Dda University Health Board)

“I was ever so pleased because we all feel safer and better for having the opportunity,” she said. “It didn’t hurt a bit and I’m used to injections anyway, both getting them and giving them!

“It’s for our own good so I think we should be thrilled because people have worked so hard to get the vaccine ready and we are all very thankful that it’s here and ready to be used.”

For years Mrs Keir, who will turn 109 in March, was a ward sister at Llandough Hospital outside Cardiff, working as a nurse before, during and after the Second World War. Originally from St Davids in Pembrokeshire, she later lived in Llansteffan in Carmarthenshire before moving into Awel Tywi nearly nine years ago.

Life has been challenging for most people since the outbreak of coronavirus, but in particular for those who work and reside within care homes.

“We’ve just had to get on with it,” said Mrs Keir, who keeps herself busy by playing the keyboard. “You have to learn to accept what you cannot change, that’s always been my motto.

“It hasn’t been lonely as such as there’s always plenty of people about, but I have felt alone sometimes because you get used to people coming in to visit you. Of course I have missed that, but it will come back. It might take a while – we musn’t expect too much straight away – but it will come back.”

How to get a Covid test

Testing people and then tracing the contacts of those infected is considered vital to stop the disease from spreading.

Anyone showing symptoms of coronavirus should be able to be tested.

The symptoms are:

  • a fever
  • a new continuous cough
  • a loss of smell or taste

The idea of testing is to find people with the virus and keep them isolated to avoid it being spread through the wider community.

The current test involves taking a swab from the nose and throat swab and then sending it off to be processed at a lab.

Despite the problems, the government maintains anyone with symptoms should still apply for one.

Until you can get a test it’s important you and your household self-isolate.

How to get tested:

  • Go online, or call 119, before going to a drive-through or walk-through testing site – or a mobile testing unit. But people have faced long waits on hold on the phone, and have struggled to book online
  • Order a home testing kit in the first four days of having symptoms – although some home kits are not being made available to clear backlogs in laboratories

Having received the first dose of the Pfizer/BionTech vaccine on Thursday afternoon, Mrs Keir will receive the second dose in 28 days’ time, which will again be administered at the care home that she loves.

“All the staff here are lovely,” she said.

“I don’t think I would be here today if I hadn’t come to live here when I did because I was quite ill and they have nursed me back to almost normal. This is the best home I could be in and it’s a great place to live.”

The registered care home manager of Awel Tywi, Steve Bird, said that 37 residents received the vaccine on Thursday, which was a proud day for him and his team of staff.

“I feel honoured to be at one of the first care homes in Wales to receive the vaccine,” he said.

“All the residents have been given hope that normality will return in the coming months which will allow them to meet and see more of their friends and families.

“It’s been a long 10 months and without the understanding and support of the residents’ loved ones it would have made this journey a lot harder.

“I am extremely grateful to my team of staff for all the sacrifices they have made to care and support our residents. They have gone above and beyond in their dedication and their roles, and stepped in for the residents where families could not, which has been appreciated by all and given their loved ones reassurance and peace of mind.”

Hywel Dda University Health Board has said that the vaccines administered in Llandeilo on Thursday are part of a “phased and careful roll-out” to care homes across the region.

There had been concerns about maintaining the stability of the Pfizer/BioNtech vaccine outside hospital vaccination centres as it usually needs to be stored at minus 70 degrees centigrade.

The Welsh Government has discussed at length with the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) and the vaccine’s manufacturer how to repackage and transport the vaccine without compromising the standards of safety and efficacy patients rightly expect. This meant that until now it had not been efficient to take the vaccine to care home residents.

It is hoped that the vaccine will be available in other settings in the coming weeks, once learnings from Thursday’s pilot are captured and assesed.

“Whilst today’s successful care home vaccination session is a significant moment for us here in west Wales, we are approaching the roll out to care home residents very carefully and with caution as we learn how to transport and administer this particularly tricky vaccine away from our main vaccination centre,” said Ros Jervis, director of public health at Hywel Dda.

“We know many of our care home residents will be anxious to access the vaccine as soon as possible. This is not the start of the vaccine roll out to all care home residents yet but being a part of this pilot will put us in a good place to start once learnings from the care home pilot has been captured.”

Dr Gill Richardson, chair of Wales’ Covid-19 vaccine programme, said: “The delivery of a Covid-19 vaccine to care home staff and residents has always been a priority for the Welsh Government.

“We have been working for months to meet the challenges of distribution and believe we have a feasible solution which we will deploy at pilot sites from Wednesday. Care home staff have been offered immunisation at Health Board centres whilst awaiting the mobile model to commence.

“We are now very confident NHS hospitals can safely repackage and transport vaccine to care home without compromising its stability.”

Carmarthenshire Council’s executive board member for health and social care, Jane Tremlett, added: “The arrival of the Covid-19 vaccine at Awel Tywi is very welcome news and a landmark moment in what has been a very difficult year for all of us. Having this vaccine will reduce the chance of complications from coronavirus for our most vulnerable residents and is the first step in a process of reuniting loved ones with their families.

“We now look forward to the vaccine being rolled out in all care homes in Carmarthenshire once further supplies become available.”

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Hywel Dda confirmed that a staged approach will see other groups of people offered a Covid-19 vaccine as further supplies become available and if and when additional vaccines receive approval from the MHRA.

People are reminded to wait for an invitation to receive the vaccine, which will be managed through the NHS, rather than contacting their local pharmacist or GP.

WalesOnline – Wales News