Volunteering as an exit strategy

Like many people, I have spent much of the last twelve months watching the spread of Covid-19 with a mixture of horror and redundancy. Yes, staying at home, washing hands and sacrificing time with loved ones has absolutely been the right thing to do, but it has never felt proactive.

With the arrival of the vaccine, however, things have changed in many ways. Our elderly and vulnerable loved ones now have a degree8 of protection, and with spring around the corner there is hope of life returning to some sort of normality. And yet the 500,000 vaccines being delivered each day cannot happen without a vast army of volunteers to steward vaccine centres, and this is where, finally, I have found an outlet for the frustrating impotence of the last year.

I initially registered with the GoodSam app, which in conjunction with the NHS provides vaccine volunteers with stewarding opportunities that they can accept or reject. We are a good-hearted bunch in Gloucestershire, and so slots are taken up almost immediately, but I have since been put in touch with the volunteer coordinator managing rotas at a local vaccine hub.

Along with a rotation of over seventy fellow volunteers, I now help out regularly at the Beeches Green vaccination centre in Stroud. We never know from week toedd week what shifts will be required: sometimes it might just be the regular Saturday clinic, but when more batches of vaccine become available at short notice, up to three extra days’ worth of appointments might suddenly be offered out to the public, and we will be called in to help.

My role is flexible, and can be anything from greeting people at the front door, taking the less able through in wheelchairs, to assisting in the vaccine room so that vaccinees are ready with their arms out and we can keep things moving fast – when the Astrazenica is being delivered, we easily process between 850 and 900 jabs in one day, so there’s no time to hang about!

Everyone involved goes out of their way to make the experience as stress free and smooth as possible: from the car park onwards, there are stewards at every point to guide the public through and reassure them, and medical staff chat with each person, explaining what will happen and what to expect after their vaccination. Even the most needle-phobic patients are amazed at how quick and painless the actual jab is, and with a little distraction for the very anxious, some don’t even realise they’ve been done. The whole visit can take as little as ten minutes, and the worst anyone might expect afterwards is a sore arm and mild flu-like symptoms for a day or two, although many don’t even experience these.

Apart from the pleasure of talking to so many people after such a long, quiet winter, by far the most rewarding part of my role is seeing the utter joy and relief of those who can now begin to retrieve their lives. We meet grandparents who haven’t been able to hug their families, those with conditions that have forced them to shield for almost a year, carers who can now carry out their work with confidence. No mask can hide the smiles of those grateful for the small vial of hope that is that is offered to them.

The vaccine roll-out will go on for months, and as second vaccines are now being administered, there is a constant need for volunteer backup, so I urge anyone interested in helping to register with GoodSam, or to find out who is coordinating volunteers for hubs run by their local practices – you won’t regret it. Even when life returns to normal, I cannot think of a better way of spending half a day.

Sarah Steele, Stroud

Sarah Steele is the author of The Missing Pieces of Nancy Moon and The Schoolteacher of Saint-Michel (Headline Publishing)

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