Gibraltar’s COVID-19 vaccination programme, affectionally known as Operation Freedom, has been praised as much for the clear care and dedication of its staff as for its speed and efficiency. Following International Women’s Day, we recognise the crucial senior roles that women have held in all aspects of the programme, administratively, logistically and clinically. From the strategic organisation of the programme to the moment that the vaccine is administered, the rollout of Operation Freedom has been largely women-led.
The representation of women is seen throughout the entire process. All contributions are essential, from the midnight strategic planning meetings to establish numerous vaccination centres within days, to the 4:30am starts when the pharmacists including Melanie Gordon begin to prepare the little vials of hope from the freezer, to the final stages of inoculation, where most nurses working long shifts have been women. All of them are role models for the vital contribution of women to our pandemic response.
Minister for Health, the Hon Samantha Sacramento, leads Operation Freedom and holds political responsibility for the entire vaccine rollout. Also holding Ministerial responsibility for Civil Contingencies, Minister Sacramento has directed the vaccination programme at strategic, operational and logistical levels.
Director of Nursing Services, Sandie Gracia, was tasked to present and deliver the vaccine programme for Gibraltar at the beginning of January. She leads the vaccine rollout across all sectors and is a key player behind the strategic and operational planning of Operation Freedom.
The inoculation of residents of Elderly Residential Services was top priority, and for infection control purposes had its own strategy which was prepared by ERS Care Manager Susan Vallejo who was also in charge of its overall implementation. The vaccination programme was rolled out across all ERS sites including Mount Alvernia, John Mackintosh Home, Hillsides, Bellavista, Calpe and Cochrane Wards and the inoculation at all these sites was led by Jolyn Gonzalez, ERS Nursing Coordinator at Bella Vista. The immediate protection of the most vulnerable members of our community was the central point of Gibraltar’s strategy to safely Unlock the Rock.
At the ICC, a team of women oversee the administration of the vaccine to members of the public. The operational challenges of the vaccine programme have been a mammoth task, which also saw Suyenne Catania, Senior Product Manager at the Gibraltar Tourist Board, redeployed to manage the public call centre. Primary Care Manager, Rose Suissa, was responsible for leading the transformation of the former Primary Care Centre into the public vaccination centre, which is run with military-like efficiency.
Senior Clinical Lead, Suzanne Romero, is in charge of all clinical aspects from the vaccine preparation room to the final inoculations. The efficiency of the programme and the extraction of 6 doses from each vial with minimal wastage is one of the greatest success stories of Operation Freedom.
The front line vaccination unit at St Bernard’s Hospital was led by Clinical Nurse Manager Fiona Mccoubrey and administered by Toni Sanderson.
Minister for Health, the Hon Samantha Sacramento MP, said: ‘Globally, we are hearing success stories of women at the lead of COVID-19 responses producing the best results. Gibraltar is one of them. Our vaccine programme is receiving praise both locally and internationally for its overall efficiency, which is a direct result of the hours of diligent strategic planning and the meticulousness of its operational and clinical delivery. Women have been at the helm at every level, and it is important that we recognise that’.