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Vaccine Volunteering

June 15 2021     Laura Crawford

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This blog post includes personal reflections on the role of voluntary action in supporting the vaccine rollout. Thanks to all contributors for sharing their experiences.

Photograph taken to mark 100,000 vaccines being administered at Ballymena Vaccination Centre.

Managing and Supporting Volunteers at the Vaccination Centre’s- Andrew Hanna, Volunteer Now

The team at Volunteer Now, British Red Cross and Ulster GAA have worked tirelessly to recruit, train and deploy 394 volunteers across the Covid-19 vaccination centres in Northern Ireland. It has been impactful hearing the motivations of volunteers to get involved, and there are some very powerful stories. Our volunteer team have taken on ambassadorial meet and greeter roles in the past at Mega events, e.g. Belfast City Marathon, Giro D’Italia, the 148th Open, so the current project is a very different one for us all.

When onsite at the vaccination centre to support volunteers, it is incredible to see how efficient and well-organised procedures are- ‘like a well-oiled machine’. The volunteers play a pivotal role in this efficiency, and the partnership between Health & Social Care staff and volunteers has been particularly strong, with a really cohesive and friendly environment being developed over time. Their impact should not be understated contributing over 32000 volunteering hours to the vaccination rollout.

There have been so many memorable examples of our volunteers receiving amazing feedback from visitors at the centre, e.g. ‘Thanks for everything you do!’, ‘You have made my day!’, and much more. We have even welcomed new volunteers to the team who signed up as they were inspired on their visit to get their vaccination.

Volunteer Story- Matthew Allen

Father and daughter volunteers

Matthew and daughter Marie- both volunteers at the vaccination centre.

How did you get involved with the vaccine volunteering? 

I have been doing some volunteering during the pandemic which was arranged by our local Running club and decided that I could easily do a little more, if there was a way to contribute to the efforts to keep people safe. I then heard from a friend in England who was working 12 hour shifts at her local vaccination centre and that further encouraged me to engage with Volunteer Now in this program.

What role did you undertake on your shift?

There are three or four different roles required at the vaccination centre and while some people like to stick to one job, I, like most prefer to get some variety during the shift and we change jobs every hour and half or two hours. We are guiding people to the right desks, or queues for vaccines, or talking them through the process for their 15-minute sit in the observation area.

What was the atmosphere like?

It’s usually pretty busy, but everyone is in good spirits and enthusiastic about the task in hand. The disciplines and processes have to be thorough and rigidly enforced of course. The nursing and NHS staff work well with the Volunteers and the Leisure Centre staff to keep the vaccines rolling, and get the people through the centre as efficiently as possible, but with extra care for those who need it.

Any interesting observations or reflections? 

The overwhelming impression is how nice the people are and how appreciative they are of the vaccination staff who are on their feet and hard at it from 8.30 in the morning to 6pm at night, with energy, accuracy and consideration.

What have you enjoyed most? 

Meeting the variety of volunteers and vaccination centre staff in a work setting has been pleasurable; yes we sometimes have time to pass the time of day but mostly it’s about a very diverse group of people all doing their own tasks but together getting 1500 or more people vaccinated every day.

Volunteer Story- Laura Crawford

I signed up as a Steward Volunteer as part of the NHS Volunteer Responders Scheme. Shifts are offered through the GoodSAM App, and it is possible to select a shift based on proximity and shift length. As I work full-time, this system has given me the flexibility to volunteer around my existing work commitments. I completed my first shift in March at a local gym and clocked in over 12,000 steps of guiding the queue, sanitising chairs, and getting people into appointment bays as efficiently as possible. The atmosphere was incredible, and it was amazing to feel part of a team of vaccinators, volunteers, and support staff all working towards a common goal.

As a Geographer it has been fascinating to experience the different dynamics at each vaccination centre. Larger venues have offered an insight into the sheer scale of the vaccination programme, whereas small village pharmacies have demonstrated the importance of familiar local spaces to foster trust with members of the community.

Conversations with fellow volunteers have revealed a diverse range of benefits for those giving up their time. This has included regaining a sense of purpose while on furlough and helping the country edge closer towards normality. Others have shared that they were initially reluctant to volunteer, but after being vaccinated they felt able to take on shifts. Ultimately, the role provided an opportunity to do something meaningful in unprecedented times.

I have worked at home since March 2020 and have certainly missed the social interactions that the workplace brings. Being able to have short, yet positive interactions with those passing through the vaccine centre has provided a real boost and enabled me to feel more connected with my local area. It has been a real privilege to meet and greet people as they arrive at the centre and to help create a positive and reassuring atmosphere, especially for those who may be apprehensive about injections or about being in a public place after a long period of shielding.

Experiencing the vaccine centre

Two perspectives from those being vaccinated.

Dr Jane Gould

Yesterday I went to Askham Bar COVID vaccination centre and again was as impressed as on my first visit by the whole operation. As I first arrived at the centre my booking reference was courteously checked and I was directed to a parking space. I was then directed to the correct queue to join and very quickly was sat in a cubicle having details checked. Throughout everyone was cheerful, courteous and exceptionally efficient. A real success.

Professor Irene Hardill

I have been vaccinated at the King’s Meadow Vaccination Centre in Nottingham. The Centre is now part of Nottingham University, but this campus was once a television studio for Central Television. So like so many vaccination centres the buildings have been repurposed, and through the vaccine roll out a partnership of volunteers and NHS staff are giving us all hope. The volunteers fulfilled a number of roles (organising car parking, checking paperwork, offering reassurance) that ensure that the flow of people receiving vaccines is steady but constant. My centre vaccinates about 2,000 people a day, a truly remarkable achievement

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