by Aamer Safdar, Pharmacy Education, Training & Workforce Development Team Lead at Barts Health NHS Trust
I was redeployed from my main job and asked to join the COVID-19 vaccination clinic at Newham hospital where I have been working for a week. Newham has one of the highest COVID-19 rates in London and the hospital-based clinic is for hospital, health and social care and other staff. Alternative arrangements for the public are in local primary care network GP surgeries and the Excel centre which is also in Newham.
After reading the policies and procedures of the vaccination, I was able to join the clinic initially being supported by our Head of Pharmacy and then left alone once we were both satisfied that I would be OK. In the clinic room, I am accompanied by two nurses where we reconstitute the vaccine and prepare trays for the vaccinators. I do the double checks on the volumes in the syringes and make sure that we have a regular supply of vaccines from the pharmacy where they are being kept. I have also been writing the vaccination cards with details of the vaccine (Pfizer Biontech), the batch number and the date of administration.
The main thing that I have been doing is answering questions about medicines that are coming to me from the vaccinators who, in the main, are nurses. This has been the most interesting and challenging part of my role. Many of the questions are routine in terms of suitability of the vaccine with a range of medicines, past allergic reactions to medicines and types of food such as nuts and fish. Questions about pregnancy, wanting to become pregnant and breast-feeding are more challenging because the staff are seeking reassurance from me that it is safe for them to have the vaccine; this is difficult because the absence of research data does not mean it is safe, neither does it mean that it is not safe and conversations need to be tailored carefully. Examples of complex questions have included anticoagulant (blood-thinning) medicines, medicines which affect the immune system which have included HIV medicines.
Many staff have requested that they speak specifically to me and this has really brought home to me how much value they attach to our advice as experts in medicines. They are reassured that the vaccine is suitable for them and often pass by the room to give me a thumbs up and a smile of relief.