Advice to Covid vaccinators: Be bold, think big and have confidence
By Alexander Humphries*
We are taking part in the third wave of the Covid vaccination programme and it is both exhilarating and exhausting. So what advice would I give anyone thinking of doing the same?
When we started the Covid service we were asked to vaccinate 350 people a week because there “wasn’t demand” in our area. In reality we managed as many as 1,500 patients in a single week and have smashed our targets. Good job, really, because there are no other sites in our area and patients are travelling miles to see us. We will have surpassed 12,000 vaccinations by Christmas.
Every day we operate we’ve seen genuine relief in people’s faces that they have been able to get their jab, be it a third primary dose or a first dose. While we’ve had to work insanely long hours, there has been a huge sense of fulfilment as we have piloted our way through seemingly insurmountable problems.
Going from doing a few hundred flu vaccines a year to several hundred Covid jabs a day has been a huge achievement and one that is making me consider what we can do in the future. Why stop at a few hundred flu jabs a year, for example?
We might even think about hiring another pharmacist or even other healthcare professionals to help us. Part of our success during this campaign has been working with a wider range of local healthcare professionals than I ever have before: retired nurses, GPs, health visitors, ITU staff... and every day more come forward to offer their assistance.
Just a couple of downsides...
So what has been the downside? Well, family life has been put on hold as we’ve been working seven days a week and often late into the evening to try and vaccinate as many people as possible. There has been so much demand for appointments that even if we were operating 12 hours a day, seven days a week, we would still not touch the sides on demand.
At some point you have to have a break and let your team rest, but it doesn’t make it easy when people contact you with their stories about why they need to have their vaccine now. It has been genuinely difficult on the days when our off-site venue is not available to us to not feel guilty that we were unable to run a clinic.
The incessant ringing of the phone has certainly put more pressure on the pharmacy. It doesn’t matter how many times we give people information about when and how they can access an appointment, they still want to talk to someone who isn’t following a call centre script.
Time to think big
So what advice would I give new sites? Firstly, I wouldn’t try and do this in your own pharmacy. You won’t have the space to adequately push patients through and won’t be able to take advantage of the flexibility afforded to you by the national protocol.
Second, think big. While 90 vaccinations a week might feel like a lot of additional work, it is a mere drop when millions of people still need to be vaccinated. We need many more sites operating at 350-1,000 patients per week.
My final piece of advice is to have confidence in yourself. As pharmacists we are used to problem-solving and dealing with lots of people, so trust in your skills and watch where it takes you.
As we move forward into the next phase of the vaccination programme I get absolutely no sense that Covid is going away any time soon. To use the dread phrase, this is now the ‘new normal’ with the Government recently completing the purchase of another 114 million doses of vaccine – enough to jab each adult at least twice more.
So if this is our new world, why not lean into it and prepare to make this a core part of your day-to-day practice? I know we are, and you should be thinking seriously about it too.
*Alexander Humphries is the pen name of a practising community pharmacist. The views in this article are not necessarily those of Pharmacy Magazine. Tell us your experiences of offering the Covid vaccination service by emailing email@example.com