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Harriet Mackie, Marketing Campaign Executive at Allocate Software and St John Ambulance Volunteer, writes:

Luckily, as Allocate provide workforce software to the NHS and various other key worker organisations when the pandemic began and the message was ‘stay at home’, I continued working within the marketing team, albeit remotely.

Days and weeks went by; whilst I was grateful that I was working, something was missing – I felt like I needed do more to help. So, after speaking with my local GP surgery, I set up a volunteering group with the aim of collecting medicines and essential shopping for those who could not get out due to shielding. My husband and I spent many lunch breaks plus time before and after work planning the volunteer’s schedules, including delivering medicines or shopping.

Spring soon turned to Summer. We felt a sense of achievement and purpose, plus along the way, we had made some great friendships, some of which I believe we will cherish long past this pandemic.

As lockdown eased and those shielding were able to get out and about, the demand for our support decreased. My husband was also going back to work, and some structure and normality resumed. However, three of the households whom I had become close to felt too nervous to start shopping etc., for themselves. Therefore I continued to shop for them twice a week. And in all honesty, I think I will continue to do so, certainly until they decide they would like to get out and about. To them, I’m the only face they see each week; they look forward to my visits and me, well to me, I’ve gained five grandparents!

Vaccination Centres – Was I out of my depth?

When the vaccination programme came into force in December 2020, I researched what else I could do to help. I thought perhaps I could be a car park attendant or something!

Through the powers of social media, I found the programme led by St John’s Ambulance to assist NHS England with the mass vaccine rollout. I applied instantly to train to become a vaccinator! With anxious thoughts and excitement, I awaited the response of my application. Within a few days, I had been accepted into the programme, completed an interview via Teams and completed over 30 hours of online training. The final stage was an 8-hour face-to-face training day. This is where I began thinking, ‘what have I done – am I out of my depth?’. Although, now I know I had nothing to worry about. The day was a great day filled with practical learning about general first aid, administering the vaccine and patient care. The training day flew by, and it was fantastic to hear other stories about why other volunteers had decided to support St John’s and NHS England with the mass vaccination rollout. Following the training day, I had been signed off as a full-fledged vaccinator.

Waiting for my DBS check, instructions to book shifts, and indeed my ID badge seemed to take ages, but I think I was just eager to get started and put my training to good use before I forgot everything! Although it felt like forever, I was up and running within about ten days of completing my final training stages. I booked my first shift, and I was ready and raring to go.

A St John’s Uniform – what a privilege

Firstly, credit to the NHS and all of those involved in setting up the vaccination centres. I had the privilege of working at Princess Royal Sports Arena, Boston Lincolnshire and the centre ran like clockwork with social distancing measures in place throughout.

My first shift was an early shift – a 7.30 am start. I was shown around on arrival and got changed into my St John’s Uniform – what a privilege!

We had a full site induction and then a centre briefing. The centre manager had visibility on the number of healthcare professionals she was expected and their appropriate levels, and the number of St John’s volunteers. Due to the software used, the centre manager could easily delegate roles to each staff member according to their skills. Therefore, they knew any gaps in the staffing needed to operate the centre’s day-to-day running, which ran like clockwork.

There were over 800 people booked in to have their vaccination that day. Therefore, it needed to be organised like a well-oiled machine. And it was!

One of the proudest moments of my life

I was assigned to a nurse and shadowed them for as long as I felt comfortable. This proved invaluable as I picked up several tips and techniques that the training session didn’t cover. I also remember thinking about how calm and in control they were. They were professional, kind and supportive despite my junior role.

Once I felt comfortable, I was able to vaccinate my first person.

The nurse explained to the lady that I was in training and asked whether they were happy to proceed. Those few seconds felt like a lifetime, but luckily, they were. It felt amazing! There’s no denying that my arm was shaking, but I remembered my training and it all when to plan. As for the lady – I could tell there was a sense of relief from receiving her vaccine and hope from edging closer to normality.

The lady thanked the team and me for our hard work. Being considered as part of this fantastic team was one of the proudest moments of my life!

I continued to vaccinate around 20 people under the nurses’ close watch and began to relax and enjoy myself. I was then signed off to vaccinate on my own, yet with the support and advice, if needed.

Everyone is working toward the same goal.

By the end of the day, I had vaccinated over 100 people, and it felt great!

The feeling from that first day still gives me goosebumps, but it wasn’t just down to the vaccines. Despite being a very junior vaccinator and the incredible pressure the NHS is under, I was made to feel like part of the team – I felt valued and needed!

Everyone played a vital role – security guards, meet and greeters on the doors, the nurses completing the screening, the patient advocates offering encouraging words to the vaccinators, the healthcare assistants who made the vaccinators job a dream to the carers looking after the citizens post-vaccination – we all had different skills, different roles and yet we were all part of One Workforce.

Here’s to many more vaccinations. #OneWorkforce

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