Prince William thanks hero squaddies helping UK's vaccine roll out success

THE Duke of Cambridge paid tribute to military personnel bringing fresh hope and freedom to the vulnerable by helping the NHS coronavirus vaccine rollout.

More than 5,000 members of the Armed Forces are helping to establish and operate vaccination centres across the UK and Overseas Territories.

Hero servicemen are offering "light at the end of the tunnel" to older people and the chronically vulnerable who have been shut inside at home sheltering from the virus since March last year.

William, 38, spoke by video call with a small group of five military personnel taking part in the vaccine roll out.

He told them: "I really appreciate all the hard work you guys are doing at the moment. It’s making a huge difference."

He added: "I hope we come out of this lockdown very soon and a bit more social contact and life can come back to normal as soon as possible."

The future King heard how some people had been cooped up on their own so long that they felt liberated when they came into vaccination centres.

The second in line to the throne asked: "Are some of them a little bit unsure of, one, being in a social setting having been inside for so long but also about the jab and things like that?"

Private Jack Morelli of the Army’s 16 Medical Regiment told him: “Very rarely. I think the bigger thing is trying to move them along and dampen their enthusiasm if anything because so many of them have been cooped up inside the house for so long.

"They want to just chat you ear off for ages and it’s absolutely lovely. But yeah, it’s so nice to see them so happy and so energetic and so talkative."

Leading Naval Nurse Megan Muirhead. of the Joint Hospital Group (South West), described the joy of being able to bring a bit of normality back into the lives of young people who have been unable to go out for 11 months.

She said: "There was a young boy 26 like myself. He’s coming through, he’s telling me he’s not left the house since March. You know he’s got a condition through no fault of his own and he was just so excited to meet up with his friends and just have some social life back.

"And it seemed something so small because for me personally not much has changed, You know I’m still going to work, I’m wearing a mask now, things like that, but for him his whole world had stopped. So it was lovely to be able to give him back a bit of normality really.”

Private Morrelli, who has been working at vaccination centres in Southend, Peterborough, and Bury St Edmunds, said giving a sense of freedom to those who have been sheltering was a real joy but those receiving their jabs had to take it steady.

He added: "You talk to some of these elderly people, as Megan was saying, and they’ve been shielding from the very beginning and you just think about what a long period of time that is at this point.

"And you start to emphasise even with the vaccine it doesn’t mean it’s a free for all, everyone can get out of lockdown.

"We’ve still got a long way to go. But I think a lot of people come in with that keen, eager enthusiasm because they do start to see light at the end of the tunnel now. It’s a real joy and privilege to be there to help get them there."

RAF Senior Aircraftman James North, of Joint Hospital Group (North), said his tri-service team had particularly enjoyed going into a care home for military veterans in Salford and engaging in a bit of inter-services banter.

He said: "I did find it particularly refreshing personally to be able to have some solidarity with the RAF veterans and have some inter-services rivalry with the residents who served in the Army and Navy."

William, who had spells in all three services but finished as an RAF search and rescue helicopter pilot, said: “That’s very healthy for everyone, James, very important."

He engaged in a mild bit of banter himself after they discussed how James was often away from home and made video calls to his wife and 18-month-old son to say goodnight.

Wills said: "I think seeing your face every evening before he goes to bed, that’s what he cares about, isn’t it, so it’s nice for him that you can do that. Even with that big bushy beard, James."

Beards have only been allowed in the RAF since September 1 2019.

They were banned when William, who left the RAF in 2013, was in the forces.

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