Two County Durham residents who have been volunteering in the vaccination programme have shared what it is like to be a Covid Champion during the pandemic.

When Richard Hornby and Chris Varity heard about the County Durham Together Covid Champions programme, they both stepped forward to volunteer and help their community stay safe during the coronavirus pandemic.

The pair were given the opportunity to volunteer on the MELISSA vaccination bus (Mobile Educational Learning, Improving Simulation and Safety Activities), which is being used as a mobile clinic to deliver vaccinations in areas where uptake is lower and improve access for people who may find it difficult to get to a designated vaccination centre.

Delivered by the NHS County Durham Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), Durham County Council and County Durham Care Partnership, the MELISSA bus has so far delivered vaccines to residents in Peterlee, Horden, Kelloe, Ferryhill and Seaham.

Richard, from Gilesgate in Durham, volunteered on the MELISSA bus when it stopped in Ferryhill in May.

A volunteer veteran, in the past Richard has helped out at a number of public events, from local ones in the Durham community to major international sporting fixtures such as the Tour de France.

His job was to assist medical staff in the recovery area where people waited after receiving their vaccine.

Richard said: “Supporting the vaccination bus was simultaneously one of the hardest and the most rewarding days of my life. For every minute I was there, I was playing a part (albeit a very small one) in helping our county become a little bit safer.

“Like a lot of major events, this one attracted a large, positive crowd. Everyone I met and spoke to seemed extremely grateful for the work of all the doctors, nurses, support staff, volunteers and champions who were helping on the day.

“Volunteering for only a few hours made me also extremely grateful for the hard work of our medical professionals who are doing this every single day. It’s them, not me, who deserve the bigger vote of thanks.”

In Seaham, Chris Varity, from Trimdon Village, was partnered with a doctor and NHS staff to help manage the queues and direct people waiting to receive their jab.

She said: “I had an excellent time volunteering with the MELISSA bus and hope I have the opportunity to volunteer again soon.

“l actually spoke to everyone as I was managing the queue. It was fabulous to be able to help those who were scared of needles, entertain those with young children, and have some great conversations with people as they were waiting, especially with the groups of young people.

“The day was packed with people; all with good thoughts of having the vaccinations.”

Cllr Paul Sexton, Durham County Council’s Cabinet member for adult and health services, said: “Our Covid Champions have been doing an essential job in keeping people safe during the coronavirus pandemic.

“From sharing important public health information, advice, and guidance, to volunteering in key programmes such as the MELISSA vaccination bus, our Covid Champions have shown just how incredible the county’s residents are in coming together to support others at such an important time.

“The champions are also our route to hearing the thoughts and feelings of our communities, so that we can adapt our approaches and programmes based on their feedback. They are an essential part of maintaining a two-way dialogue between us and our communities so that we can support as many people as possible during the pandemic.”

 Kate Huddart, head of medicines optimisation, NHS County Durham CCG, said: “The MELISSA bus has enabled us to take vaccinations even closer to where people live and reach many more people, who may have found it difficult to get to a clinic or large vaccination centre.

“Working together with our health partners has enabled us to be flexible and responsive within our local communities and remove as many barriers as possible that may have prevented people from having their jab.

“Our Covid Champions have played an essential role in this by the sharing of information to local communities across the county, not only helping us to widely promote the vaccination clinics but also dispelling some of the myths around vaccinations ensuring people get the right information in a way that works for them.”

Further walk-in clinics are being held at a number of venues across the county. For available dates and vaccine information, visit

People must wait a minimum of eight weeks before their first and second dose.

The County Durham Together Covid Community Champions programme is recruiting people across the county to share up-to-date Public Health messages of safety, awareness and guidance within local communities, friends, and family on a regular basis.

For further details about the programme and how to become a Covid Community Champion, visit