The atmosphere of a COVID-19 vaccination clinic is amazing.
At our first session, everyone was on a high: both the staff and the patients. It was electric. The patients were so excited to get their vaccine; to them, it meant getting closer to living something like a normal life. Some of them were dressed up as if they were going out. They couldn’t thank us enough.
I lead the pharmacy team at Chesterfield and Dronfield Primary Care Network (PCN), in Derbyshire, which has made this possible.
We’re quite a new team — most of us didn’t even start in our posts until after August 2020 — yet we’ve taken a leading role, working with our other PCN colleagues to deliver the COVID-19 vaccination service. Since 18 December 2020, our PCN, which has around 140,000 patients, has administered COVID-19 vaccinations to around 4,500 patients.
We’re so proud of what we’ve achieved, considering that some members of our pharmacy team had never vaccinated before, so they were starting from scratch. Some have a background in community pharmacy, so they have experience of the flu vaccination service. And others came from hospital pharmacy, so are experienced in making up a vaccine. All these skills came together to make a strong COVID-19 vaccination team.
We are leading the vaccination clinics from our PCN sites. In our neighbourhood, for example, we are running clinics from two GP practices, as well as what was the local theatre.
Our pharmacists work right across the clinics. When a patient arrives, a pharmacist or other registered professional will talk to them to ensure that they are suitable for the vaccine, tell them about the potential side effects and then ask them for their consent. Patients might ask which vaccine they are having and how long will it be before they’ve got immunity.
Pharmacists working in the drawing-up room prepare the vaccine for the patient. They make sure that the vaccination rooms have a steady supply, and ensure that all regulations are being followed for the vaccine’s storage and preparation.
At some sites, we needed pharmacists to actually give the vaccines, with the help of an administrative person, who inputs the patient data. Our preregistration trainee is doing some of this admin. She’s not yet allowed to do the actual vaccinations, but we’re giving her as much exposure to the process as we can — she’s been learning to use the clinical systems and input the information straight onto Pinnacle (our IT system), which is then transferred on to the patient record. We also have a new technician and she is going to do the same.
And then, at the end of the process, someone — often a volunteer — will spend 15 minutes observing people who have had the vaccine.
Of course, the COVID-19 vaccination programme extends beyond the clinics. We also cover the care homes in our area: over three consecutive days between Christmas and New Year, we went to 49 out of our 51 care homes and vaccinated the residents and staff. Working with nurses, healthcare assistants and physician associates, we administered about 2,000 vaccinations in those care homes, and that’s a massive achievement. And as of before the end of February, we will begin providing vaccines to housebound patients.
At the moment, we’re all working at least one day at weekends. And the days are long. Although it’s hard work, it’s very satisfying — but we know we can’t keep up this pace for too long. It’s not sustainable.
We are going to be giving these vaccines for a long time. So right now, we’re working out how we can maintain a work−life balance in 2021; to start, we are building a bank of locum pharmacists to ease the pressure on the core team.
It’s not just the pharmacists who have worked hard to get this service up and running. It is very much a team effort: the practice manager, the lead GP, the nurses and all the staff are working flat out. And we also thank all our volunteers from across the area who have come along to help.
As a PCN pharmacy team, we’ve been at the centre of the COVID-19 vaccination service, and I’m enormously proud. But we couldn’t have delivered this on our own — everyone is mucking in to protect our people from this nasty virus.
Isobel Bancroft, lead senior clinical pharmacist, Arc Primary Care, Chesterfield and Dronfield Primary Care Network, Derbyshire