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When the Chief Nursing Officer for England Ruth May asked colleagues to support the COVID-19 booster programme, I knew this was something I could do as I have experience delivering intramuscular injections. I had just had my own booster dose and many people were coming forward to get protected. I knew I wanted to help.
I was appointed in my national role at NHS England and NHS Improvement as the International Recruitment and Ethnic Minorities Nurse Advisor because of the particular impact of the pandemic on our colleagues from Black, Asian and minority ethnic communities. The role has offered me a chance to reflect on how all our lives have changed over the past two years and, as challenging as it has been, how it has also presented opportunities in the NHS for myself and others.
I have an honorary contract with my local trust, King’s College Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, so I emailed the Chief Nurse to offer my volunteering services for the booster rollout. At the beginning of the week I was working in my national role, engaging with International Nursing and Midwifery Associations so that they could secure funding to provide pastoral support for their members. By Friday I had completed my mandatory e-learning and I was officially a COVID-19 vaccinator.
On my first day I was shadowing a vaccinator who told me she had previously worked as an air hostess at British Airways for 22 years and now, vaccination is her full-time job! I was given access to the National Immunisation Vaccination System (NIVS) and taught how to address the screening questions. By midday, I was drawing Pfizer vials in the preparation area with a medical student who was formerly an A&E nurse, working as a bank nurse for the holidays. Before I finished my shift I was vaccinating patients under supervision, getting familiar with the electronic systems and was ready to be signed off. By Christmas Eve, I was allocated a pod on my own and was independently vaccinating. I felt a huge sense of achievement.
During my training I met a host of people from diverse backgrounds. I met a web designer and an ITU nurse who, ready for a change, wanted to support the vaccination programme. Both are now vaccinators. I also connected with a young receptionist who was volunteering one day a week until she secured her permanent admin post, and the manager of the vaccination hub was also my Link Nurse in Vascular Access many years ago. I am in awe that amidst the diversity of people’s circumstances and backgrounds, there is a genuine camaraderie and dedication amongst all these team members. There is also a sense of shared joy during moments like when we all sang ‘happy birthday’ to a patient who came in to get vaccinated on their birthday.
Another highlight of my time working at the vaccination centre was being able to meet and talk to our Chief Executive Amanda Pritchard when she came to visit the centre.
Throughout my time supporting this roll out I have met people from all walks of life, whose stories will stay with me. I met a staff member who was reluctant to get his vaccine. When I meet people like this, I allow more time to explore their concerns – whether it’s fear of side effects, needle phobia or preconceived ideas related to the vaccines – taking time to talk it through, offering kindness and non-judgemental support goes a very long way. This colleague did ultimately decide to have the vaccination and was pleased with his choice. Being able to support my colleagues like that is very fulfilling. I have also met a liver transplant patient who had come in to have his ‘booster-booster’ (4th dose). He was so grateful to be able to get this extra protection as he remains immunocompromised. I also met a man who wanted to get his booster because he needed to travel home to Poland to see his daughter who had recently been diagnosed with cancer.
Thank you to everyone coming for their first, second and booster jabs.
Reflecting on my vaccinating experience, I am prouder than ever to be a nurse and part of #teamCNO, and I am privileged to be in a diverse team with a shared purpose and drive to prevent the spread of coronavirus.
I’d encourage anyone who is thinking about a career change or considering the first steps in their career to join the NHS. There are hundreds of roles available where you can make a real difference – and you don’t always need a degree, for example as a healthcare support worker. There are many ways you could also make a difference as a volunteer for the NHS, like our many vaccination volunteers. Find out more about volunteering.