John Bowman - My time spent volunteering on the national Vaccination programme

Written by John Bowman Technical Manager at Cafeology.

 I had the opportunity to volunteer at Wheatbridge Medical Centre to assist with a two day vaccination program designated for the over 80s. It was at very short notice as were the plans for the Health Centre to be used due to the last minute confirmation of availability of the vaccine.

I have very little experience of dealing with older people in any sort of medical setting so was a little nervous at putting my name forward. However when my mate Terry, who had been tasked with raising a volunteer team explained that if he couldn’t confirm the existence of a team in the next couple of hours, the 2 days of vaccinations would be cancelled, I could only say “Yes”!

If I said “No” then around 1500 vulnerable local people would miss out on the opportunity to get their first dose of the vaccine.

I rang my employer, Cafeology to check if I could be spared the following day. As soon as they found out why, they too said “yes”!

When I arrived at Wheatbridge the following morning, I recognised most of my fellow Volunteers! As Terry is Landlord at my local pub, The Sir William in Grindleford, he had recruited most of the regulars from the Pub Quiz as volunteers! As we haven’t seen each other as a group for months, it was great to catch up. Like a night at the pub, only without the beer. Well, you can’t have everything!

 A damn good chance to have a laugh together, something that we just can’t do under current socialising restrictions.

A very quick briefing for my role as sole outdoor queue Marshal, was followed by an explanation that the whole clinic was also open, including Surgery, Pharmacy, Dentist and Sexual Health Clinic.

This meant that the designated area for queuing would include 1 huge vaccination queue of over 80s, criss-crossed by 2 other queues and a 4th queue heading in the opposite direction towards the Sexual Health Clinic.

Apparently my task was to make sure the Vaccine queue was orderly and didn’t block the other facilities. I also had to ensure that none of the over 80s were lost to the Surgery or Pharmacy - bad enough, Dentist - bad, or probably worst case scenario - Sexual Health Clinic.

It is true to say that some of the patients were confused, some were anxious and others were scared. It was good to chat to them, explain where they were going to go during the visit and reassure them that the other volunteers and professionals were going to guide them through the building and procedures. They didn’t need to worry, their only input required was to turn up at vaguely the right time and give their name. Everything else would then be done for them.

As the idea was to minimise time in the building, the queuing was mainly outside under the overhanging roof. That overhang was great as it snowed for most of the second day. We arranged wheelchairs for those that could not queue on their feet for long and shelter indoors after the injection for the less able, running around the car park to match patients to their arriving taxi.

The chats with the patients in the queue were lovely. Their anticipation and excitement was infectious! Amazing to see many of them were so immaculately dressed for this big occasion!

People told how they hadn’t left the house since March or April last year. Others told of the isolation or how they had not seen their Grandchild since they were tiny and now they were walking and talking. It was very touching.

 All of them were looking forward to a better time and saw this vaccination as the very start of a process that would lead to an end of their isolation.

There were only a few attempted queue jumpers, some I’m sure by accident, others, I’m fairly sure deliberately “not noticing” a line of 100 other, more patient people in their 80s. However, the vast majority of people in the queue were absolutely lovely.

It was like a party atmosphere. A Big Day Out! I spent most of the time laughing along with them, their jokes, stories and banter was great. It was also refreshing to be referred to as a “young man” so many times. That’s not happened for a while!

Their stoicism, warmth, humour and consideration for each other was an example to us all.

I thoroughly enjoyed the experience! It felt very worthwhile. It was very rewarding and great fun.

If you are given the chance or can bring about the opportunity to do something similar, I would wholeheartedly recommend that you say “Yes!” and just go with it!




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