Filipino nurse May Parsons
Filipina nurse May Parsons, a 17-year veteran nurse in the UK’s National Health Service (NHS), administered the vaccine to 90-year-old Margaret Keenan. Image Credit: AFP

On December 8, 2020, May Parsons, a Filipina nurse, became the first person in the UK to administer a COVID-19 vaccine (Pfizer/BioNTech) outside clinical trials.

The 17-year veteran nurse in the UK’s National Health Service (NHS) administered the vaccine to 90-year-old Margaret Keenan.

On Wednesday, July 13, 2022, Parsons represented UK health workers to receive the courage award from the Queen.

The Queen was accompanied by Prince Charles in honouring the representatives of NHS in Wales, Scotland, and Northern Island.

The George Cross, given at Windsor Castle on July 12, was instituted to recognise “acts of the greatest heroism or the most courage in circumstances of extreme danger.”

Frontliners who perished from COVID-19

As of May 2020, Filipinos were the single-largest ethnic group to die from COVID-19 in the UK’s NHS, according to HSJ research and the Filipino Nurses Association UK.

In the US, nearly a third of the nurses who’ve died of coronavirus are Filipino, even though Filipino nurses make up just 4% of the nursing staff in America.

Filipino nurses who died UK
These are the faces of Filipino nurses and medical workers who were the frontliners in the fight against COVID-19 in UK, as of April 2020. Image Credit: Facebook

Courage, compassion

The NHS said it acknowledged the “courage, compassion, and dedication” of its staff during the pandemic and their service to the public for the past 74 years.

Parsons, for her part, said the George Cross award is a recognition of the “bravery” and “courage” of National Health Service staff.

Parsons works for Respiratory Services at the University Hospitals Coventry and Warwickshire Trust, where 90-year-old Maggie Keenan was vaccinated on December 8, 2020.

Since then, the NHS in England has delivered more than 125 million vaccinations, including 33 million boosters.

NHS chief executive Amanda Pritchard, who attended the awarding, said May is “one of hundreds of thousands of our fantastic members of staff that have served the country with compassion and dedication throughout the pandemic."

"The world watched when May administered the first-ever COVID vaccine outside of clinical trials to Maggie Keenan in Coventry a year-and-a-half ago, kicking off the largest and most successful vaccination program in NHS history," Pritchard said.

“We would not be where we are today without the efforts of May and countless others who went above and beyond to roll out the vaccine at speed and precision."

Parsons, meanwhile, said vaccinating Keenan with the first approved COVID-19 vaccine was a "wonderful moment that I am so proud of."

“That moment kick-started the biggest and fastest vaccination program in our history. It prevented hospital admissions, it got the country back to normal and it saved lives," she said.

“All of the staff in hospitals and our communities went above and beyond during the pandemic to look after patients despite the risks the virus posed to themselves, across health and care, staff sacrificed so much to look after those in need. The George Cross is a fitting tribute to them all.”