Neil Littman shares his experience helping to administer the NHS vaccine rollout at an Enfield pharmacy over the past year
Following six months of voluntary work at my local pharmacy during 2020, making prescription deliveries to residents across the borough of Enfield, I returned to work there as an administrator on the vaccine rollout in January 2021.
Initially, vaccinations at the pharmacy were by appointment only, with priority given to the over-60s and those with vulnerable conditions. We cross-reference names and NHS numbers and record the dates the vaccines are given on the system and give each person a card to keep for their records, containing the batch details.
If people don’t show up, we offer spare vaccines to key workers. Once a batch of vaccine is opened, it has a short shelf life. The clinician has to count the number of vaccines compared to the expected number of patients booked on the system.
Things run smoothly for the most part. A few people ask questions about the vaccines – which one are we giving, is it any good etc – with many of the concerns expressed being informed by what people have seen on social media.
Our catchment area at the start of the rollout was very wide. People were even turning up from outside the borough. To begin with we were vaccinating between 80 and 120 people per day.
We supply lateral flow test kits to patients when we have them in stock. We also keep a record of the code numbers associated with kit requests and sell masks. Meanwhile, the normal day-to-day work of the pharmacy still goes on.
By October, there had been some changes. While at the start we were giving patients the Astra-Zeneca vaccine, for the booster jabs we give the Moderna vaccine. We are also now giving flu jabs on a walk-in basis.
In November, when the initial 15-minute safety time that people were asked to wait after receiving the vaccine was dropped, the number of people being vaccinated per day doubled to 160 almost immediately.
In the middle of December 2021 we were asked to get as many people vaccinated before the new year as possible and, though we still had an appointment system, we were vaccinating walk-ins as well. The working hours become extended to 9pm and we also texted patients to see if they could attend earlier appointment times.
During the ‘big push’ just before Christmas, we peaked by doing 270 vaccinations per day, thanks to having three vaccinators available instead of the usual one. Some days, the pressure of dealing with so many patients was relentless.
The rollout of the vaccine programme has also resulted in a digital revolution for people who previously didn’t know what a QR code was or how to use the various NHS apps on their phones. It is probably the way things will be run from now on.
I would like to acknowledge all those who have given their time to help support the public and their GP practices and pharmacies and continue to do so during a very challenging time.