Episode 7: May Parsons

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Do you remember that iconic moment the first UK vaccine was administered? Well, this week, we will be hearing the story of the nurse who provided that vaccine, her name is May Parsons.

May was originally born in the Philippines. She had a challenging childhood in which she was raised solely by her father during her infancy as her mother was abroad earning money for the family. However, when May was just 5 years old, her father was brutally murdered during New Year’s Eve celebrations. May describes witnessing the slashes and bullet-wounds in her father’s body: “I remember the panic, worry and helplessness”. Being exposed to such trauma at that tender age must have been unbearably difficult to manage but May says that “You go through it and you learn how to survive and how to adapt and I learned to provide a better life for my kids”

May moved to the UK in 2003 with young children to take care of and a full-time nursing job to carry out. She ended up working night shifts for 13 years in order to be able to manage her familial and professional commitments. She describes only having 2 hours’ sleep at times and “running on coffee”.

When coronavirus struck, May was one of the first nurses to volunteer for redeployment in order to manage the influx of cases at her hospital. The challenge of working so directly with the virus, however, was that May became extremely concerned about potentially contracting it. She says there was “no escape from it, your skin, your hair, your clothes, the air you breathe will have it”. As a result, she became petrified of passing the virus on to her husband and children. She was offered the option of living onsite, separate to her family but, on consideration, she decided that she did not want to spend so much time away from the people she loved. So she followed all of the safety precautions she could and, up until now, neither she nor her family have contracted the virus.

May has a track record of managing vaccinations. She says “in our trust we endeavour to give all of our staff the flu vaccine”. She also achieved the amazing feat of single-handedly delivering 140 flu vaccines in one day. Consequently, she was the natural choice to deliver the first vaccine when the vaccine was officially approved for general use on the 8th December 2020. 

May has had some negative responses to her iconic involvement in the vaccine delivery programme. She has been the target of online trolls and vaccine sceptics who have accused her of being an actress. One particular attack focused on the fact that May was not wearing gloves when she delivered the vaccine, yet, as May notes, thorough hand hygiene provides the safest environment for a patient receiving the vaccine.

Ultimately, May has refused to let negative reactions to her actions concern her “I can only control what I do… I will have to let go of those comments that are thrown at me”. May’s bravery and dedication to healthcare is something which we should all respect and it is truly valuable to discover more about the woman behind the iconic image.

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