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“Maybe I have spent too long dealing with cattle sheds and pneumonia, but ‘please open some windows!’”

01 March 2021, at 9:00am

I have worked at many vaccination clinics in my career, from the humdrum beaches of Goa to the exotic high streets of Coventry. The key skills required are efficient clinic organisation, vaccine stocks, consumables, staffing and, of course, patients. For the staff it is important to be able to get people in and out quite quickly and for the clinician to be able to get a relevant history, informed consent and then jab the patient with the correct vaccine.

For the last month, I have been volunteering at our local pharmacy-led COVID vaccination clinic. My role has been “administrator” – as in admin, not as in administering the vaccine. There has been quite a bit of talk in the veterinary and general press about vets “lending a hand” in the vaccine drive. There is not a big call or need for vets to vaccinate people. As I have seen there is currently a steady supply of semi-retired, retired and recently desk-bound NHS staff willing to lend a hand. They do get paid, about £11 an hour, but all are just keen to help.

As an administrator I did have to do some online training. Much has been made in the media about the laborious and unnecessary aspects of this, but what I had to do seemed reasonable – GDPR, health and safety, hygiene and infection control, adult safeguarding, etc. In all, it took about four hours, two hours of which have made it onto my veterinary CPD record. It also gives you access to a vast free online resource of NHS training. There is much more for vaccinator training: up to about 12 hours of online content plus a live session on IM injections in humans, as well as resuscitation, treatment of reactions, etc.

The skills needed to be an administrator are very transferable from working in practice, namely taking a concise medical history based on relevant questions, gaining informed consent and record keeping. My favourite consent so far to the vaccine was “Good God yes, just give it to me!” to which I replied that I couldn’t fit all that in so I will just tick the “Yes” box. And that is the consent given, there is no signature, just the patient verbally agreeing and a box ticked.

It has been interesting being involved in human health-care. As we have been dealing with the elderly so far, the heating has been on full blast and we (ie my wife and I, also a vet and volunteering at different times, same location) have been going round opening windows and educating the NHS staff on ventilation. In the end I wrote to the site manager and, in a semi-apologetic way, said that maybe I have spent too long dealing with cattle sheds and pneumonia, but “please open some windows!” One of the staff vapes and I suggested getting him to do that indoors at the end of a session to see the air flow, or lack of. The pharmacy and GPs running these clinics get about £12 per vaccine. We see about 200 patients a day with four tables running (ie vaccinator and admin) plus two door volunteers and four car park volunteers (supplied by the Rotary). The practice owner in me can see a good business model here. This could go on, well, forever. I am in no way a fan of privatising the NHS but for this sort of thing it could work well and see small local businesses flourish running vaccine centres.

All vet practices have been doing their utmost to social distance staff and work in a COVID-safe manner. We live in fear of contact tracing closing down a practice or team. That just didn’t seem to occur to the vaccine centre staff, and if you see them on the TV news reports showing these places at work they don’t seem to be as paranoid about it as we are. The BSAVA protocols have saved us once at the vets so we are thankful for them.

Supply of vaccines seems to be good, the latest hold up being syringes. The government have stockpiled all the 2ml syringes with needles built in (swaged on? Or is that just sutures?!). The staff have been doing their utmost to get every drop used so most eight-dose vials will produce 10 doses and most 10-dose vials 12 doses. I helped one of the younger pharmacists in this; as a practice owner I am very adept at squeezing the last drop from the meniscus of a vial! This is great for the country as we have 20 percent more doses than we could have done. However, they have only just realised that we will now need 20 percent more syringes shipped out to the centres to catch up. Various other media panic stories about lack of glass vials do not seem to have materialised on the front line.

I can highly recommend volunteering in these centres; it is hugely rewarding seeing the elderly being vaccinated and being at the front line of the way out of the pandemic. You may not get to be a vaccinator but vets have many other skills that are transferable and will be appreciated. If nothing else you can go along and open some windows!