• 7 April 2021

Spreading hope one vaccine at a time: My COVID vaccination volunteering journey

Despite the recent gloomy anniversary of the first lockdown, spring this year is bringing renewed hope to millions across the UK, with the nationwide vaccination programme now in full swing.

Waterman’s Group Director of Facilities Management, Philip Varney, shares his experiences as a volunteer supporting the NHS COVID Vaccination programme.

So where do I begin with my volunteering journey? I was first contacted by St Johns Ambulance (SJA) in December 2020 about volunteering to assist in the NHS COVID Vaccination programme. I’d been thinking about volunteering with SJA for a number of months so I decided to sign up and assist in what SJA calls ‘their biggest mobilisation since World War Two’. After a year of the UK living with COVID-19, it has given me a chance to reflect and focus on what’s important – and to me that’s people and community.

I finished my online training in December and I then moved on to the volunteer vaccinator training, which I found to be really comprehensive, so I felt very confident about my new role. Vaccinations are a step towards giving some normality back to people who’ve been stuck in their homes since March 2020 and it has been quite a frustrating time with how slow the process was from completion of my training to starting my first shift. At times I was just going to forget about volunteering, but I decided to keep with it and I’m glad I did!

With volunteer shifts ranging from 8am to 8pm, split into six-hour slots, seven days a week, Waterman has been very supportive of me assisting in the vaccination programme and has kindly agreed to me using some of my working week, alongside my own time.

Starting my first shift at Epsom racecourse, it struck me how impressive the vaccination operation was, with Epsom being one of the first mass vaccination centres to open back in December 2020. The centre staff are a blend of full-time NHS workers, St Johns Ambulance volunteers and racecourse staff all working together to keep the vaccination programme on track. From the moment you arrive to the time you leave, it is like one large conveyor belt on intermingled cogs which run efficiently. Everyone who works at the vaccination centre gels together, even though you may have never worked with that person before.

Most of the vaccinations are completed by fully trained NHS nurses and doctors and it is very rare to see a SJA volunteer vaccinating. My first shift was predominately booking in members of the public for their vaccinations and this was quite important role for making sure those who are scheduled got to the right place, at the right time and with the correct information entered into the NHS database. I checked-in many for their first vaccinations and its was very interesting to meet so many people from different backgrounds and across all age ranges, with the vast majority feeling positive about their forthcoming vaccinations and the programme itself.

Naturally, I can’t go into too much detail about the patients themselves, but this role really requires lots of empathy, especially with those who had concerns about the adverse effects of vaccinations and we had to put their minds at rest. On one occasion, I had tears and tantrums from an elderly man, but on the flipside I did have quite a few laughs – maybe some of that was just my old army banter! One gentleman in his 70’s fell in to fits of laughter when I uttered the immortal words “are you pregnant or likely to be pregnant, sir?”

All I can say is that it was an enlightening experience. My last couple of hours were spent in the post-vaccination area, ensuring those who had just received their vaccinations did not have any immediate adverse reactions. As expected, there were none during my shift and this just proves the point that these vaccination are safe, so when it’s your time to book, please make sure that you do. The overall experience has been so positive for me that, once the vaccination programme comes to an end, I have decided to remain with SJA and volunteer for another role.

Throughout my voluntary work as a vaccinator, all I have heard is positivity from those that have had their COVID vaccinations, so let’s get everyone vaccinated and return to normality. You never know, you might just see me lurking in the vaccination centre!

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