- 24 February 2021
Professor Lisa Ackerley is an independent Chartered Environmental Health Practitioner providing advice and support to most food industry sectors, but particularly the hospitality industry and the mass media on food safety and public health issues. Here she tells us about her experience of volunteering as a marshal at a Covid-19 vaccination hub.
I had read about how the vaccination program could be thwarted by lack of facilities and staff to administer it and was keen to offer any help I could and had spoken to my GP about this. The next day an email arrived from my local MP Daisy Cooper explaining how a charity called Communities 1st was organising volunteers to help the process.
I applied and after a while received instructions to carry out online training and filled in a number of forms. There were many people doing the same thing so there was a little bit of a wait but then someone rang me to offer me some shifts at a vaccination centre in a pharmacy in St Albans. I explained that I would rather work outside and as many people would rather work inside this was fine!
I turned up for my first shift on a freezing cold day with my ski clothes on in many layers to anticipate a cold shift. I’ve now worked in different centres and I’m in full admiration for the organisation of the operation. It’s understood that every person plays a small part in the process, which at first seems to only be a tiny thing, and I questioned how can it possibly be any use? Of course collectively what we do is make sure that people coming in are reassured, they understand where to park and they know how and when to walk to the centre. For those with limited mobility, we get them to park close by and there are wheelchairs available. We keep people in their cars so that they stay warm until they need to go down to queue up for a few minutes outside and have their details taken. In the largest hub where over 1000 people are vaccinated every day, it’s the organisation and the people moving that keeps the process from becoming chaotic. I’ve always wanted a high visibility jacket and a walkie-talkie so perhaps I can take that one thing off my bucket list.
It’s very interesting to observe people’s reactions to having the vaccination and most of them are absolutely elated when they come out because they feel as if normality might return at some point. Everyone is very grateful and it’s nice to see happy faces thanking us for what does seem like a very small role. Of course, because of my background, I’m keen to point out if anything needs to be tweaked in terms of Covid-19 safety, and I’m making sure I keep my distance from people in cars to ensure they have the reassurance that I’m not going to infect them.
It’s not just the vaccine centres that have volunteers - I did a stint at the Covid-19 testing centre too. There are over 1000 volunteers in my area, all playing an important role including telephone work, so even if someone is shielding they can still get involved. Other volunteers help with shopping and delivering medicines, providing a lifeline for those who can’t go out.
Overall it’s really good to be contributing in a small way to this incredible national effort. Whatever can be done to get us back to normality as quickly as possible, it’s worth a few hours of my time to contribute.