There’s something a bit unusual about meeting new colleagues while delivering the COVID-19 vaccination service, especially during the first week of a role. I found myself in this situation, having started a job in a new primary care network (PCN) on Monday, January 4 in East Yorkshire.
Stepping into a new role is always daunting. Packing my bag the night before I was due to start, I was sure to slip in the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine protocol, having prepared myself with online training just in case. I had two days before the arrival of the vaccines on Wednesday to prepare myself to ensure we were ready to deliver a service in GP surgeries I’d never seen, with people I’d never met and with a vaccine nobody had ever handled before. I was nervous but it was exciting.
At the time, I thought it was a baptism of fire to find myself thrust into vaccine delivery so soon, training colleagues, but by end of that first week, I found myself grinning all the way home.
The organisation it takes to deliver a service on such a scale is unbelievable. My new colleagues had been working incredibly hard to prepare the site. With support from clinical commissioning group personnel, medicines management teams, aseptic services pharmacists and pharmacy technicians, it was an ‘all hands to the pump’ effort to get this thing off the ground.
Everybody wanted to join in, everybody wanted to do their duty and absolutely everyone was keen to make this a success. There was an air of nervous anticipation as we readied ourselves for service provision. With the skills of pharmacists and pharmacy technicians, we were able to train and support our nurses, GPs, healthcare assistants, volunteers and administration staff in providing the vaccines safely.
Those of us with a pharmacy background were sizing up our relative skills in aseptic preparation, reminiscing over days at university or previous experience in aseptic services. The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine has some very specific requirements for storage and reconstitution, and it seems fit that pharmacy teams should be leading this.
I revelled in the opportunity to meet new colleagues from a variety of backgrounds. By the second day .of vaccinating, we had the process as well-oiled as if we had been inverting vials in our sleep.
It felt less like a clinical setting and more like a community effort. With local volunteers providing directions and support, crinkled eyes making up for hidden smiles behind masks, and old colleagues reunited as they abandoned their day jobs to support the team, the feeling of hope was tangible. We were no longer that nurse, that pharmacist, that clerk and that GP. We were one team with one common goal.
“Well isn’t this just fantastic,” I heard one of our patients say as I drew up the diluent for a vial and smiled to myself. I thought of all those footsteps that had gone by the room, some slow and uneven and others accompanied by the tap of a walking stick or the mutter of support from a family member. This was our most vulnerable population and we were in the thick of it, with the work of our hands protecting their future.
As I got into my car after my first week thrown into the work of this PCN, I thought of the hundreds of people we had vaccinated against COVID-19. As a pharmacist, I felt for the first time in a while that my work had been respected by both colleagues and patients alike.
Pharmacists and pharmacy technicians have skills that make them essential in the national COVID-19 vaccination programme. Every single one of my PCN colleagues enjoyed the work of protecting the vulnerable. Vaccination is just the start of the end game and we all want to play – it’s just great to see that pharmacy colleagues are valued in the process.
Laura Buckley is a locum and a pharmacist at a PCN in East Yorkshire