Queen hails vaccine rollout as NHS leaders awarded George Cross at Windsor Castle

The nurse who delivered the world’s first Covid-19 vaccine was among those at the small ceremony, Correspondent Martha Fairlie reports

The Queen hailed the “amazing” Covid-19 vaccine rollout as she celebrated the NHS' achievements by awarding the institution the George Cross in honour of its "courage, compassion and dedication". Looking relaxed, the 96-year-old monarch was joined by the Prince of Wales for a small Windsor Castle ceremony where health leaders from the four home nations were each awarded the medal. They were joined by frontline workers from England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, including May Parsons, the nurse who delivered the world’s first Covid-19 vaccine outside of clinical trials to Maggie Keenan on December 8 2020. The Queen, who wore a day dress and moved with the aid of her now familiar walking stick, was on fine form and when told about the nurse’s historic first, she made her guests laugh with the quip: “You’re still alive?”

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When the nurse told the Queen: “We’re terribly, terribly proud of the vaccination roll-out, it was so successful,” she replied: “Yes, it was amazing.” And when NHS England chief executive Amanda Pritchard highlighted the tens of millions who have been jabbed, the monarch said “tremendous”. When the Queen asked: “And what are you going to do with it?” with regards to the medal, she was told by Ms Pritchard it would go on tour of the NHS before being found a permanent home.

The Queen, accompanied by the Prince of Wales, presenting the George Cross to Ms Pritchard. Credit: PA

Each health executive from the four nations and their frontline colleague came up in turn to receive a George Cross which had been placed on a cushion carried by the Queen’s Equerry Lieutenant Colonel Tom White.

The Queen, who previously said that she was left "very tired and exhausted" when she had Covid in February, touched the cushion in a gesture to symbolise its presentation.

The George Cross is awarded for "acts of the greatest heroism or of the most courage in circumstances of extreme danger".

It was instituted by King George VI in 1940 during the height of the Blitz in World War Two.

The George Cross medal at Windsor Castle, Berkshire. Credit: PA

Lieutenant Colonel Michael Vernon, Comptroller of the Lord Chamberlain’s Office with responsibility for organising ceremonial events, read out the George Cross citation at the start of the ceremony. He said: “It is with great pleasure, on behalf of a grateful nation, that the George Cross is awarded to the National Health Services of the United Kingdom. “This award recognises all NHS staff, past and present, across all disciplines and all four nations.

"Over more than seven decades, and especially in recent times, you have supported the people of our country with courage, compassion and dedication, demonstrating the highest standards of public service. “You have our enduring thanks and heartfelt appreciation.”