Vaccine roll-out: Celebrating the Covid-19 pandemic partnership between NHS staff and volunteers in Stortford
Colin Woodward, the former Herts county, East Herts district and Bishop's Stortford town councillor, found camaraderie and a real sense of community when he joined the army of volunteers who supported the NHS throughout the Covid-19 pandemic.
Out of adversity often comes something worthwhile. Covid-19 and lockdowns were devastating for all too many, but we did see some fantastic efforts by staff in the NHS and other organisations who went way above and beyond normal duties, often at some sacrifice and risk to themselves.
There has also been a vast army of volunteers who have in so many ways done their bit to help us all get through. In fact, so many stepped up to the plate that not all could be deployed. That was certainly the case with those who swiftly signed up for Team Herts, where more than twice the number were on the list of potential volunteers than were ever used and I know some found this frustrating – I was one.
But I eventually found a worthwhile opportunity to volunteer with Operation Shield, collecting and delivering medicines for those who were housebound.
Having previously had several weeks laid up with Covid symptoms in March 2020 and making a good recovery from which, by others' experiences, was a relatively mild bout, I couldn't deny that the limited chance, whilst following strict protocols, to get out and about was personally very welcome.
So, what next? For me, there was the prospect of helping out at vaccination centres, starting with the local GP-led mass flu vaccinations held at Bishop's Stortford Football Club (BSFC) and then to join – after five training modules, a telephone interview, Disclosure & Barring Service verification and two references – Communities1st volunteers.
They are a St Albans-based charity but have gone well beyond their local beginnings to now assist many other charities and also support the roll-out of county-wide Covid vaccination centres. If you are interested in volunteering, are a charity needing support or recruiting, then do check out their website and make contact. I was able to assist at Harlow Leisurezone in its early days and again during Volunteers Week (June 1-7).
I also did a very few sessions at the Avanti Meadows Primary School site in Bishop's Stortford, but that has been well resourced with volunteers and paid staff.
It was good though to meet there a former district council colleague, Cllr Peter Boylan, back like many using his skills after retiring from an NHS role and leading the jabbing team.
Our local GPs in the Stort Valley and Villages Primary Care Network had, with the leadership of Dr Sian Stanley, decided to continue their work on mass vaccinations at the flu clinics held at BSFC to support the national task of Covid vaccinations.
Volunteers were initially sought from the patient participation group (PPG) to manage the car park and assist with the flow of appointments inside for the 10 vaccination stations where vaccinators – including nurses working extra hours, pharmacists, retired clinical staff, doctors and ex-military – did the important work of jabbing with Pfizer or AstraZeneca.
Everyone had to learn and adapt 'on the job' to managing a mass effort as the operation built up and overcame foreseen and unforeseen challenges – one of the first being to find a fridge and then a vehicle large enough to shift it!
As one PPG member happened also to be a member of our small Bishop's Stortford Satellite Rotary Club, a number of us Rotarians soon became regular members of the support team and developed, through all weathers, experience in managing queues, meeting, greeting, parking and sanitising arrivals for vaccination.
We got in quite a few 'steps' moving around the car park and did also need to become fleet of foot to avoid some cars; especially in the early days with the higher priority groups as many hadn't been out of their homes for months and certainly hadn't driven a car for some time. We also coped with breakdowns!
Being located in a business park and near the recycling centre added some challenges. An average half-day shift would see some 600 or so vaccinated but one peaked at about 770.
By the time the BSFC operation closed, we had completed hundreds of hours volunteering and the team had helped some 33,500 local people to be vaccinated.
A wonderful sense of can-do and camaraderie had built up quickly. We gathered for a bit of a valedictory get-together with cake, bringing together many of those involved.
Dr Stanley said how well every drop of vaccine had been managed and gave thanks to all for their contributions. Speaking with her customary uplifting inspiration of the sober and serious challenge that had been well met, though, she couldn't resist 'injecting' some humour.
We all felt part of something worthwhile and we look forward to getting together again after a summer break as we return to support any booster programme and the annual round of flu jabs.