Being a vaccine centre volunteer is so rewarding!

In her day job, Tracey works at the Woodland Trust.

Amongst the mad dash to get as many people vaccinated as quickly as possible, one of our volunteer vaccination clinic site stewards, Tracey Garrett, has taken time out to reflect on her experience in supporting the vaccination programme and how it has given her, and others, a great sense of hope and inspiration…

When the pandemic started, I was shocked and frightened like everyone else. I sat at home during the first lockdowns, worrying and wondering how I could possibly help. I applied to the first call from the NHS for volunteers but was not selected. So I sat tight, waiting for another opportunity. Through my day job I have connections with Bolton CVS (Bolton Community and Voluntary Services), so when the call came in that they needed volunteers to help the Bolton GP Federation to deliver the vaccine programme, I jumped at the chance.

I arrived at Lever Chambers on the first day of volunteering with the first shift already in full swing. I was immediately struck by the atmosphere – there was so much fun and laughter. Many of the clients – who were, of course, over 80 – had not ventured outside since March 2020. They were very keen to talk to people and were so happy to be offered the vaccine. Relatives accompanying them were extremely relieved to bring their nearest and dearest to the centre as they had been, and remain, very worried about them.

I was initially given the role of manning the front door. I think this is one of the best jobs as you are the first person that the patients see when they arrive. My overwhelming sense of that first shift was of hundreds of people aged over 80, from all different walks of life, determined to get to the vaccine centre by whatever means necessary. Given their age, many have mobility issues or other challenges, but I was struck and very moved by their tenacity and enthusiasm to get the vaccine so they could get on with their lives. It felt like the tide had turned and we could beat the virus and get people back together again. It was one of the best days of my life. The hope and the optimism were something that had been lacking for quite some time. How I managed not to cry all day, I do not know. It was a very moving day. It felt momentous.

The GP Federation team are a warm, talented and friendly bunch and clearly dedicated. They work hard for people and are very organised, with the centres set up like well-oiled machines. The aim of the game is to get people in, vaccinated and out again as quickly as possible. All the volunteers play key roles in supporting this process to ensure the flow of people is steady and continuous.

Most of the clients are quite nervous when they first arrive, and not sure what to expect. The volunteers provide a friendly face and help clients get settled as they make their way to the vaccination room. Whether it’s welcoming people, helping them move around the centre, guiding them to receive their vaccination, or getting them to the observation room, there’s a volunteer on hand to help keep the line moving. It’s great because as a volunteer you get a chance to chat to people as they wait. You hear so many people talking about the worries they have had and their excitement at meeting up with family and getting the chance to go outside again.

The whole experience for each client takes around 30 minutes including 15 minutes sitting in the observation room to ensure there is no reaction from the vaccination. It is a very calm room where people chat away, often with neighbours or people they’ve just bumped into for the first time in almost a year. I love the idea that as they sit there, these lovely people are becoming more and more protected against this dreadful virus.

The whole vaccine volunteer experience leaves me with the most enormous sense of hope. Being able to help in a positive way by doing something that will lead us out of this pandemic is uplifting and inspirational.