Royal Pharmaceutical Society

My experience delivering COVID-19 vaccinations to patients

by Gino Martini, RPS Chief Scientist 

“Don’t go partying now!”, I say to the 92-year-old lady who has just been vaccinated, a remark which in return is met with a chuckle. “Oh I won’t - I haven’t been out of the house since March but it won’t be long soon before I can!”

A little bit of light relief is often needed in challenging times and I appreciate for this lady, and for many others, that each year is very precious, after all she has lived through the second world war. She is older than the NHS itself – so protecting her from COVID-19 is the least that we can do!  

Last year, I realised that there would be a national vaccination campaign and that our country would need ‘boots on the ground’ to help.  So, as RPS Chief Scientist and being part time, I embarked on a training programme so that I could volunteer my Fridays and Saturdays at the COVID-19 Vaccination Centre based at Lister House Health Centre in Harlow.

I have to say the feel-good factor of helping within the community cannot be underestimated and it has been one of the most satisfying moments of my career to date. As a vaccinator, it is important that I continue to remind the public, including those who have been vaccinated, to continue to respect lockdown and social distancing rules.

The team at Lister House have been amazing, hard-working and so professional. I was also surprised to see how many primary care network pharmacists (Dipak, Rocky, Asha, Maryam, Muneera) were involved, many of whom had only just started at the Centre – talk about a baptism of fire!   

These young early career pharmacists are a credit to the profession, and I have been struck by their spirit, dedication and cool heads. It’s just great to see and it’s been a real privilege to experience and be part of this dynamic team.  I say cool heads, as the centre is operating around three days a week and needs to vaccinate between 500 to 600 people a day - and to say its full on is an understatement!

It’s interesting to note that the two most asked questions have been ‘what vaccine am I getting, the Pfizer one or the Oxford/AZ one?’. This tells me how interested the public have been in the race for a vaccine and the science behind it.

And ‘is that it?’, relating to how painless the vaccine jab is! I often distract the patient by giving them the patient information leaflet to read and they barely make past the first paragraph before the deed is done.

What’s also struck me is how grateful people are when they get vaccinated. The many ‘thank you’s’ have been overwhelming, with one patient stating that they ‘felt they had just won the lottery’. We in turn must also thank all our pharmacy colleagues who are working so hard in all sectors across the NHS such as in hospitals, GP surgeries and community, under challenging conditions. And to all those colleagues working in pharma, academia and in the MHRA who have made these vaccines available in record time! And to Team Lister!

I salute you ALL!