IT was in early December 2020 when the first beacon of hope arrived after the most turbulent of years.

Calendars were left untouched and empty throughout a year where the only consistent plan people had was to remain confined within the four walls of their homes.

Major events were cancelled and, if you did manage to leave your home to have a pint and brief catch up with friends, it was only permitted if accompanied by a scotch egg.

But then, out of the darkness emerged a light at the end of the tunnel – a vaccine against the virus which had put the world’s collective lives on hold had been found.

And so, one-year-ago this week, a UK grandmother got up bright and early to become the first person on the planet to be given the Covid-19 jab as the phenomenal mass vaccination programme commenced.

Margaret Keenan, who turns 92 next week, said the injection she received at 6.31am was the “best early birthday present”.

It was the first of 800,000 doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine which was dispensed in the weeks that followed.

Today, 116 million doses have been injected into the grateful arms of the nation, with 46.4 million people fully vaccinated, equating to 69 per cent of the population.

For Mike Meers, East Suffolk and North Essex NHS Foundation Trust’s vaccination programme lead, it has been a “rollercoaster” of a year.

It proved to be a far cry from his role as director of IT at the trust, but a challenge he relished.

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“13 months ago our managing director asked me if I would pick up the vaccination programme,” said Mr Meers.

“For me it was a bit different, I’d not been involved in anything clinical before, but during the pandemic everyone pulled together.

“It has been a challenge in terms of the guidance and legislation around the programme has changed at every turn, but given what has been given back to staff and patients it has been the most rewarding thing I’ve known in my 32 years of working in the NHS.

“So many people came forward to help us too, it gave people a vision on how they could actively help get back to some normality.

“I guess it could’ve been a little daunting for me but I enjoy a challenge and I guess as an IT person I’m pretty logical, so planning is something I can manage.”

Now, on the one year anniversary of the first Covid-19 vaccination being administered, Mr Meers conceded the whole process makes him “emotional” to think about.

“The vaccine has been the one thing that’s given people hope, especially at the end of last year,” he explained.

“I still remember the first day in Colchester when we opened the vaccination hub and we had the over 80s pouring in. I would say that day was my most rewarding day ever in the NHS.

“I saw people who had left their homes for the first time in months and having conversations. It was hard to move them on afterwards, they just wanted to chat with people.

“It was an emotional day and I’m really not an emotional person at all.

“That’s been true of the programme right the way through.

“People were so grateful our hospitals were among the first to step up and I think I will always look back on that with real pride.”

With Christmas on the horizon, Mr Meers admitted he’s hoping for a more “normal” celebration alongside family and friends.

“I’m looking forward to seeing certain people properly for the first time in about 19 months,” he added, “I think we all are.

“The last year, for me, has been a rollercoaster, but a truly rewarding one.”