HOW hard can it be to wipe down a chair?
Answer: A lot harder than it looks when we’re in the middle of a pandemic.
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Jane Moore volunteered with The Sun’s Jabs Army at Epsom vaccination centreCredit: Dan Charity – The Sun
It’s my first task as a volunteer with The Sun’s Jabs Army, and Senior Immunisation Officer Sarah Ellis has given me a lesson in exactly what to do.
But I fail miserably when, after scrubbing it down with a couple of antiseptic wipes and standing to admire my handiwork, I then lean on it with my bare hand.
Duh. But luckily, it’s only a test run and I soon get the knack.
The vaccine centre I’ve been assigned to is at Epsom racecourse in Surrey, and after just a few days this buzzing hub of activity is already running like a well-oiled machine thanks to the incredible medical staff and a few enthusiastic volunteers already in place.
“We’re giving around 800 vaccines a day at the moment, but that will improve once we’re getting regular supplies and more volunteers in place to help with the logistical side of things,” says Steve Flanagan, CEO of Central Surrey Health.
That includes jobs such as traffic marshalling, working on the registration desk, assisting with online forms, the aforementioned chair wiping between attendees, and just chatting to those waiting for the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine — many of whom live alone and relish the conversation.
I have a long chat with Sun reader Linda Brooks, 69, from Reigate, Surrey, who has brought her 91-year-old mum Betty along for her vaccine.
“I’m so excited to be here. Not just because I’m getting the vaccine, but because I love racing,” jokes Betty.
“Once I’ve had the second dose, I’m just looking forward to going out without having to worry, and to see my grandchildren, too. I have barely been out since March.”
Linda drove her mum to the centre and, when they arrived, they were shown where to park by volunteers — one of the many roles that The Sun’s Jabs Army will undertake at vaccine centres around the country.
Then, once inside the centre, there are two registration desks — again manned by volunteers — where arrivals are checked in and asked crucial Covid-related questions such as: “Have you been experiencing any Covid-related symptoms?” etc.
Once it’s established that they’re in the right place at the right time, they are then ushered past the desks for the next stage, which involves filling out an online form to give, among other things, your date of birth and NHS number.
Among her tasks, she was responsible for wiping chairs between atendeesCredit: Dan Charity – The Sun
Jane Moore also directed arrivals indicating them their correct car parkCredit: Dan Charity – The Sun
Again, this is a task primarily performed by volunteers, leaving the medically-trained staff free to do the most important job of all — giving the vaccination itself and checking the health of recipients straight afterwards.
One of the volunteers — Marion Blair, 66, of Farley Green, Surrey — started here last Monday and says the tasks she’s been given so far vary from day to day.
She’s done chair wiping (far better than me, I’d wager), traffic marshalling and, the job she’s on today, filling out the online forms using an iPad.
But like me, she finds the best part of the whole experience is getting to chat with some of the many characters coming through the centre’s doors.
One of them is Betty who, once Marion has completed the form on her behalf, gets ushered into one of the eight partitioned booths currently in use.
There’s room for extra ones once they have more volunteers in place.
“I have worn a short-sleeved jumper specially for the occasion,” laughs Betty, removing her coat.
Staff Nurse Claire Gilpin, 36 — who usually works in a school vaccination programme — explains to her what is about to happen, as well as pointing out that a very small percentage of people might suffer from flu-like symptoms in the following 24 hours.
It’s freezing outside but inside Epsom vaccination centre there’s a glow of hopeCredit: Dan Charity – The Sun
Jane watched on as Betty, 91, was given her vaccineCredit: Dan Charity – The Sun
Jane Moore with volunteer Bas at Epsom Racecourse in SurreyCredit: Dan Charity – The Sun
Once all the usual checks have been done, she holds up the small vial of liquid that’s going to give freedom to so many and draws it into the syringe.
A cheerful Betty doesn’t bat an eyelid and, a few seconds later, it’s all done.
“I feel better already,” she declares.
Once Betty has gone, I go outside and discover my true vocation in life…directing traffic whilst wearing a hi-vis jacket.
How to sign up
VOLUNTEERS for the Jabs Army are being asked to first register online at nhsvolunteerresponders.org.uk
You will then receive an email with log-in details to sign up online.
Finally, you will be asked to download the GoodSAM app on a smartphone which will match you to a role in your area.
Services will be opening in the coming days and weeks, with different areas up and running at different times, so you might not be required on site for some weeks. Not everyone who signs up will need to be called upon.
You need to commit to only two six-hour shifts a month at a vaccination service, and no prior experience or qualifications are required.
You will work as part of a team that will include NHS staff and volunteers. The Royal Voluntary Service will conduct appropriate background checks.
No chair-wiping embarrassments here; I chat away to each arrival, check their appointment letters, and point them in the direction of the correct car park.
Some are driving themselves whilst others are being driven by family members, but without exception, they are all mightily relieved to be here.
As cold starts to bite, I take a break and return inside for a cuppa.
Across the hall, I find smartly-dressed volunteer Bas, who doesn’t want to give his full name but is happy to chat.
“I wiped chairs yesterday and today I’m filling out the forms on the iPads, but the best part is meeting the people,” he says.
“Many have lived through the Second World War, so they’ve had an interesting life and have great stories to tell.
The more volunteers who sign up to Jabs Army, the more vaccines will be given and the sooner those times will comeCredit: Dan Charity – The Sun
You can do something useful and help to get people vaccinated so we can get back to normal lifeCredit: Dan Charity – The Sun
“So I’m really enjoying the conversations but also I’m here because it’s better than sitting at home moaning about coronavirus. Let’s do something useful and help to get people vaccinated so we can hopefully get back to normal life.”
Hear, hear. Outside the temperature may be freezing cold, but inside there’s the warmth of camaraderie and hope that, finally, the worst of this pandemic is behind us and the country can look forward to happier times.
And the more volunteers who sign up to Jabs Army, the more vaccines will be given and the sooner those times will come.
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