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'Very pleased' 100-year-old Irish war veteran 'feels great' after taking Covid-19 vaccine

Belfast's Tom Ferrett became the oldest person in the UK and the island of Ireland to have a Covid jab last week, reports Rodney Edwards

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OPTIMISTIC: 100-year-old Tom Ferrett at Palmerston
Residential Home. Photo: Jonathan Porter/PressEye

OPTIMISTIC: 100-year-old Tom Ferrett at Palmerston Residential Home. Photo: Jonathan Porter/PressEye

OPTIMISTIC: 100-year-old Tom Ferrett at Palmerston Residential Home. Photo: Jonathan Porter/PressEye

This isn't the first pandemic Tom Ferrett has lived through, but this one coincides with a few personal milestones. He is a centenarian and was the oldest person on the island of Ireland to receive the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine on the day it was rolled out last week. Now, he is looking forward to seeing his family again.

Mr Ferrett, from east Belfast, is believed to have also been the oldest person in the UK to get the jab first and said he was "very pleased" to receive it. He was among 25 residents and 35 staff selected for the vaccine at Palmerston Residential Home in Belfast, the first care facility in the western world to take part in the historic roll-out.

Sitting on a bench surrounded by Christmas decorations, the Royal Navy veteran laughs: "Do I get paid for it? There's no point in doing this if I am not going to get anything for it. Joking aside, it has been a tough time, but it (the vaccination) has to happen or there will be a lot of people getting sick."

Mr Ferrett, who shared his 100th birthday back in May with NHS fundraiser Captain Tom Moore, tested negative for the coronavirus throughout the pandemic.

"To tell you quite truthfully, I feel great," he smiled. "I am very pleased; I got the injection, and nothing has happened to me since… I have seen many people over the years complain about injections, but they don't bother me. I'm no different now than I was before I got it."

He served on HMS Speedy, a fleet mine sweeper, as an electrical engineer and on HMS Tyne before leaving the forces and later returning home to Belfast.

Like the rest of the residents, Tom has been affected by Covid restrictions preventing visits and he misses being able to see his family.

This will be the first time in 25 years he will miss spending Christmas with his loved ones in England.

His daughter, Lynn, will visit him later this week, but will have to adhere to strict social-distancing guidelines at the home where Christmas presents are being placed, unwrapped, into an isolation room.

"I haven't seen my family in a long time… it would be nice to see my grandchildren."

Figures released by the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (Nisra) last week reveal the number of care home residents who have died whether in their home or in hospital, having been transferred for treatment.

Up to December 4, the deaths of 630 care home residents in the North were linked to coronavirus, 127 of which occurred in hospital. Care home residents make up about 42pc of all deaths linked to Covid in the North.

Of the 1,501 deaths recorded by Nisra up to December 4, 59pc (884) occurred in hospital. There were 503 (34pc) in care homes, nine (0.6pc) in hospices, and 105 (7pc) at residential addresses or other locations.

"It is hoped the vaccination will 'help bring back some normality'," Palmerston manager Paul Johnson said.

The purpose-built dementia care home had outbreaks of the virus in October but is now virus-free.

"There is a sense of relief. The vaccination is great but it's too late for many families who have lost loved-ones, both North and South, so this is very bittersweet," he added.

Mr Johnson said he was informed just 24 hours before that the home had been chosen for day one of the vaccine roll-out. "It's historic to be the first home in the western world to get the vaccine, we are delighted and think this is the light at the end of the tunnel for all of us."

Arriving into Dublin Port from Holyhead, distribution of the vaccine to the North has been a logistical challenge. It must be stored at minus 70 degrees and is being transported in special boxes, packed in dry ice, and stored in an undisclosed location owned by Public Health England.

Patricia Donnelly, who is leading the Covid vaccination programme, has been sharing information with her southern counterparts ahead of the vaccine roll-out here.

"There is great shared learning in this, and we are willing to share information and learn lessons from when they run their own programme which will be following ours very quickly," she said.

With 483 care homes across the North and more than 100,000 healthcare staff, there is a "mammoth task" before Christmas to deliver the vaccination. This will be intensified from tomorrow.

Seven locations for the vaccinations have already been selected, including in Derry which had some of the highest case numbers in the UK, with 1,000 cases per 100,000 of the population in six weeks.

"Our number one priority groups are the care homes; number two are healthcare workers and over-80s. We'll do more when we get more doses in," said Ms Donnelly.

Progress will depend on available supply across the UK and is dependent on production and delivery schedules. The timescale for the approval of further vaccines will be an important factor in the wider roll-out of the programme, which is scheduled to continue until the summer of 2021.

The North will not be getting any deliveries of the vaccine in January, but this is expected to resume early next year and continue up until September, says Ms Donnelly.

"This is the start, it is not the end," said Northern Ireland's Health Minister Robin Swann, as the region ended its two-week limited lockdown last Friday. "It is the beginning of the end."

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