On the frontline at a Covid-19 vaccine centre
- Credit: DENISE BRADLEY/Archant2021
Volunteers at Fakenham Medical Practice have been on the frontline of the vaccine rollout, dishing out nearly 25,000 jabs. Reporter Aaron McMillan spent an afternoon there to see how they have become a slick machine.
Outside Fakenham medical practice, volunteers gather together to share a hot drink and a chat as they prepare to be briefed on their part to play in administering another round of vaccines.
I was given the most important job to start with, making hot drinks to fuel some of the 15 strong team for the next three hours. Luckily we had Suzan Burnell with a trusty brown notepad - four cups of coffee and two teas.
Standing in the kitchen it truly feels like everyone in Fakenham wants to support the team in some way - from Kinnerton chocolate to bouquets and donations from Morrisons, everyone wants to show their appreciation.
For those visiting, the military precision of the process makes it nothing more than a quick turnaround.
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But I was lucky enough to spend an afternoon in a Covid-19 vaccine centre, helping out volunteers in this incredible program.
I have only had my first jab due to my age and did not think about them more than the figures we see reported of the incredible rate at which they are getting people vaccinated against the disease.
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At the practice, I met individuals who have done so much unseen work. From people standing out in snow and sleet, to heatwaves. From nurses who retired and started volunteering as much as possible just a week later. To people with jobs, moving work to weekends to get people vaccinated on the day they need it.
As of the end of May 2021, the clinic has administered 22,254 Covid-19 vaccines; that figure is expected to be even higher when the latest figures are released.
On Easter Saturday alone, they vaccinated 1,170 patients.
They have run 46 Covid-19 clinics involving well over 4,000 hours of volunteer time and in excess of 2,700 cups of tea and coffee.
These clinics have helped the town’s rate of vaccination, with 86.5pc of those aged over 16 receiving their first dose and 64.8pc being fully vaccinated.
The practice is given only a few days' notice before a round of vaccines come in. From there the group of volunteers come forward within minutes to fill their roles.
Each person has their part to play and it works like a well-oiled machine. Whether it was Peter Colley, who has been working since January, welcoming individuals to the car park. He seems to know just about everyone who comes into the car park, or certainly makes them feel like a good friend of his, even if this is their first time meeting.
“I love being able to be helpful," he said.
"If I see someone who needs extra help, I just find that very rewarding, if you can just go the extra little bit, in reassuring people if they are feeling nervous, or doing anything we can to make the whole process more comfortable.
“If I get one person on the way out, opens the window to say thanks, that brings me a lot of satisfaction.”
I stood alongside him, welcoming people to the centre. Although he found himself repeating himself, he still brought the same welcoming approach and smile to every driver that came through.
Gail Allcock, who was volunteering only a week after retiring from her role as a nurse at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, taking the temperature of every person coming in, also taking the time to ask people how they are feeling and putting them at ease as they draw near to their vaccine.
“I enjoyed being part of a team, as a nurse you always do that,” she said.
“I wanted to be doing something to give back to the community. I feel like we're just a tiny part of that team, it starts way back with the research and all the scientists.
“We're just a tiny part of it, so if everyone else is doing something it's brilliant.”
Patrick and Sarah Saunders, the owners of Black Shuck Gin offer up their time to spray sanitiser on people’s hands whilst making conversation with each person that comes through the doors.
“Just knowing that volunteering makes a difference is what makes me come along,” Mrs Saunders said.
“If those volunteers didn't come only half as many people would get their vaccines today, and anything we can do to speed that up, it's worth doing.
“We're in a fortunate position because we work in our own business.
"We can manipulate our time during the week so being here today might mean that we're working Saturday morning but that's okay. Not everybody can do that, we can, so we will.”
I got to see every step on the roadmap through the vaccine and can see why these people are happy to offer their time, seeing people arrive with excitement as they think of the protection the vaccine will offer, to settling any pre-jab nerves for people who do not feel comfortable around needles (me included).
Outside the practice, I checked patients off my list as they arrived - explaining exactly what will happen to every one; through the doors where your temperature will be taken and sanitiser will be offered. I said it countless times for around 15 minutes. How people do it hours at a time I’ll never know.
I then moved inside the practice, offering hand sanitiser through squirty bottles and taking temperatures. Talking to people about how they were feeling, and helping to assure another needle phobia sufferer, that it wasn’t that bad.
I saw the joy in people’s faces from arriving at the car park to floating out of the backdoor at the relief of a problem free jab.
A few people left the surgery feeling shaken by the experience, but Terry Davies was always there to put an arm around their shoulder and help put them at ease as he walked them back to the car.
Suzanne put her brown notepad back in her pocket, ready for next time. As she joins the rest of the team at the pub across the road to enjoy a well-deserved drink.