A student has been awarded a British Empire Medal after helping start a Covid-19 vaccination programme at the Southampton University Health Centre during the pandemic.

Michael James Penston, 21, was only 18 years old when he volunteered at the on-campus GP surgery, before taking over as the chief organiser of the site within six months.

He told the Echo: “It is an enormous honour to receive this award, but the credit is all on the absolutely incredible bunch of volunteers, vaccinators, doctors, nurses, admin teams, and operations teams that have all come together to make the vaccination program a success.

“This is a fantastic opportunity to also recognise them and thank them for the work they have selflessly done over the past few years to keep our community safe from Covid-19 and allow life to return to normal.”

Michael, originally from Devon but now lives in Highfield, remains at the university where he is in his fourth year of studying computer science.

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During his time volunteering throughout the pandemic, the University Health Centre administered its 50,000th vaccination, not only serving as a hub for students but for residents across Hampshire.

During that time, vaccinators and volunteers were supplied with free pizza by the university, as Michael joked: “It certainly enticed a few extra volunteers!”

He added: “There were a lot of late nights and weekend work involved while trying to balance it around my studies but I’m just glad it was all worth it in the end.

“Throughout that time, it was never a burden, I was happy to help, and it was a real pleasure to be in the role with a fantastic group of people.”

Nearly three years on from when Michael first volunteered at the on-campus GP surgery in January 2021, Michael reflected: “I know it might sound like an intense role, but it just felt right to get involved.

“There was an amazing spirit at the start between everyone and I think we just carried it through.

“There was an uplifting atmosphere each day and you knew you were doing something that ultimately was going to be of benefit to people.”