Analysis

Mass vaccination: what it’s like working in the UK’s biggest clinic

One nurse’s experience of a landmark day at a COVID-19 vaccination centre

One nurses experience of a landmark day at a COVID-19 vaccine centre, as 5,000 health and social care staff receive their jabs

  • Vaccinator Clare Hendersons account of Super Saturday at NHS Louisa Jordan, Glasgows temporary critical care hospital
  • The logistics behind the mass vaccination drive, with more than 5,000 health and social care staff booked in for their first jab
  • How staff allay peoples fears about the vaccine, plus top tips for vaccinators

The COVID-19 vaccination programme is the largest of its kind in NHS history and nurses are at the forefront of its delivery.

One nurse’s experience of a landmark day at a COVID-19 vaccine centre, as 5,000 health and social care staff receive their jabs

  • Vaccinator Clare Henderson’s account of ‘Super Saturday’ at NHS Louisa Jordan, Glasgow’s temporary critical care hospital
  • The logistics behind the mass vaccination drive, with more than 5,000 health and social care staff booked in for their first jab
  • How staff allay people’s fears about the vaccine, plus top tips for vaccinators
Health and social care staff queue for a COVID-19 vaccine at the NHS Louisa Jordan in Glasgow
Health and social care staff queue for a COVID-19 vaccine at the NHS Louisa Jordan in Glasgow Picture: Alamy

The COVID-19 vaccination programme is the largest of its kind in NHS history – and nurses are at the forefront of its delivery.

On 16 January, more than 5,000 health and social care staff were booked to be vaccinated at NHS Louisa Jordan, a temporary emergency critical care hospital in Glasgow, as part of a mass vaccination drive by NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde health board.

Dubbed ‘Super Saturday’ by the health board, the operation saw almost 100 staff administer doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine across 65 vaccine stations at the hospital, which was built at the SEC exhibition centre in Glasgow during the first wave of the pandemic.

Here, nurse and vaccinator Clare Henderson gives an insight into how the day unfolded.

Clare Henderson

A landmark day at our COVID-19 vaccination centre

8am I have been working in a travel immunisation clinic for 20 years but today I am working a 12-hour shift at a COVID-19 vaccination centre in the Louisa Jordan temporary hospital.

I report to the vaccination coordinator and then pick a bay to work in. I have had several shifts now, but today there is a different feel about the centre. On a normal day we immunise about 1,000 people, but today we have 5,000 health and social care staff booked in.

The next 20 minutes is spent preparing our work area, making sure it is clean and stocked up with syringes, saline, trays and masks. Time to say hello to some of the other immunisers – I recognise a couple from previous shifts.

8.20am Huddle time. Today we are split into four teams, each with our own coordinator. Our coordinator tells us that there are 65 immunisers and lots of healthcare support workers (HCSW) who will all be working until 8pm.

Today’s clinic is the largest mass vaccination clinic in the UK, so there is a lot of interest in the centre – the board chief executive is visiting and there is a film crew recording a lot of what is going on.

‘I see a woman who until last week was, in her own words, an anti-vaxxer… She tells me that with the increase in cases she is scared of catching COVID-19 and now feels privileged to have been offered the jab’

We are provided with a new aide memoire for vaccine suitability and reminded that we must only draw up one dose at a time – no prepping six syringes in advance. The coordinator asks whether anyone is new to administering COVID-19 vaccinations. Everyone has undertaken training but there are several nurses who are here for their first session. Those of us with experience support them and we buddy up to work together until they feel confident to see people on their own.

Our coordinator checks that we have all signed the latest patient group direction (PGD) on the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, as the contraindications in relation to allergies have changed since some staff last worked.

She also clarifies that second doses will be given in 3-12 weeks, as this advice has also recently changed. There is a chance for questions, then it is off to start immunising the people in the growing queue.

8.30am We are giving the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine today and we are issued with our ampoules. I have a nurse shadowing me. She has completed all her online training and knows what to do – she just wants to see me dilute the first ampoule and then be observed as she does hers.

I share with her the system we use for keeping a tally of the doses we have given from each ampoule on the whiteboard. This helps the coordinator and HCSWs see when we need to be given another vaccine ampoule. We also use the board to record when vials are taken out of the fridge and when we dilute them.

The kit: an ampoule of the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine with other supplies
The kit: an ampoule of the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine with other supplies Picture: Alamy

There are a lot of experienced immunisers here today, among them midwives, a health visitor, a school immunisation nurse, a theatre recovery nurse and a practice nurse. The midwives, who have done several shifts already, are all recently retired and have returned to help with the programme.

9.10am I see a woman who until last week was, in her own words, an anti-vaxxer. She has a relative working in a COVID-19 high dependency unit who begged her to get the vaccine. She tells me that with the increase in cases she is scared of catching COVID-19 and now feels privileged to have been offered the jab.

Efficient, orderly process – even when someone faints

10.30am Someone has fainted in the next pod. The nurse calls for assistance and we are soon in the pod to help her lower the person to the floor. Thankfully, not many people faint, but as experienced immunisers we have seen it numerous times before. The coordinator comes in to help too and it is all dealt with calmly and quietly.

10.40am Teatime. We now have a tea area much nearer the work area, which is great as there is no need for a long walk to the shop. We have been provided with lots of celebratory cupcakes with ‘vaccines work’ iced on them. I do not normally have cake for breakfast but as it is a historic day, I tuck in.

11am A woman comes in with the loveliest bag, which I notice as I have a weakness for bags. We chat about the bag as I am immunising her and she does not even realise I have finished. I ask her if she had to wait long in the queue: she says she arrived at the centre 30 minutes ago and is impressed with how quickly she has been seen and how efficiently it appears to be running. She expected long waits after she had read about the numbers of people booked in today. Social media is buzzing with what is being called ‘Super Saturday’ because of the number of doses being administered today.

Support from colleagues helps us keep going

11.45am One of the HCSWs comes to check if I need anything stocked up. She has brought me a bottle of water and reminds me to drink it. Our day would be much harder without them making sure we are alright. A couple of the other HCSWs are keeping the queue moving, calming those who look anxious and suggesting people remove their winter layers while they wait at the last stage before being directed to a bay.

12pm I have a woman who is nervous about the vaccine as there is so much contradictory information floating about that she doesn’t know what to believe. I tell her there is no hurry and to fire her questions at me and I will answer as honestly and factually as I can. She is grateful for the opportunity to ask what she wanted and to get some answers. Once she is happy that, in her words, her head ‘will not fall off’, I give her the vaccine and she asks, ‘Is that it?’. Relieved, she heads to the observation area for 15 minutes.

12.40pm Lunchtime. It is good to get the mask off. I check my phone for messages from home and have a quick scan on social media. There is a definite buzz about the day. The BBC has an article about the vaccine session and the number of people we have booked in.

My top tips for nurse vaccinators

Drink often and stay hydrated You will be doing a lot of talking.

Support each other As the programme progresses we will have more staff who will be new to immunisation. We are all doing this for the same common goal – let’s be kind to each other.

Educate yourself about the different vaccines and the vaccination programme People are looking to immunisers to answer questions, not just about the vaccine but about the programme roll-out and vaccines in general. We are the face of the programme and we need to answer questions as fully as we can to promote and encourage confidence in it. Resources include RCN’s frequently asked questions on COVID-19 vaccines.

The right information about priority groups for vaccination

2.25pm I see a woman who, once I go through her medical history, I don’t think I can vaccinate, as the PGD excludes her. I talk it through with a colleague and head off to find the coordinator, who agrees with me that the person cannot receive the vaccine today. The woman is then given information about when we could immunise her and rebooking. We are so well supported by the vaccination coordinators.

3.30pm The woman I am immunising asks when her daughter, who is 21 and has learning disabilities, is likely to get vaccinated. I can’t give her a definite answer, but I explain about the priority groups in the first phase of the programme. Much of the timing will depend on availability of the vaccines, but I tell her the about the vaccine roll-out document that is available on the government’s website.

Health and social care staff wait in the rest area after receiving their coronavirus vaccines
Health and social care staff wait in the rest area after receiving their coronavirus vaccines Picture: Alamy

3.50pm The fertility question has come up. It has taken longer than I thought it would to crop up today. It is a reasonable question, as there is a lot in the media about it. This young woman was told by a friend on the way to the session not to have the vaccine as it makes you infertile.

We talk about how there is no data to suggest that fertility is in any way affected. I explain about the experts at the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, who are independent of the drug company, and that if there were concerns regarding fertility the committee would have issued advice on it.

The fertility issue appears to be one of those ‘fake news’ stories that has unfortunately gathered momentum. I mention that I have been giving vaccines for 20 years and have not yet come across one that causes infertility.

‘It feels like a very small step in a very long road. The sooner we can protect as many people as possible, the sooner the pressure is taken off colleagues and fewer families will be devastated by the impact of COVID-19’

5pm Tea break. I have noticed that several people have been emotional, some tearful. For some it is the relief of receiving the vaccine and hopefully being protected against COVID-19. Others have commented on the impact of being inside the NHS Louisa Jordan Hospital and seeing hundreds of bed spaces for people affected by the virus. I felt the same the first time I saw it for myself. For me it was one of those pivotal moments in the pandemic when it was announced back in March 2020 that Glasgow was getting a ‘temporary hospital’. Today has been another landmark day.

6.15pm I see a young man who is shielding due to his asthma. He asks if he can stop shielding now he has had the vaccine. I say that while the vaccine is effective and likely to prevent him from becoming unwell with COVID-19, no vaccine can give 100% protection for everyone. It is going to take 2-3 weeks for him to get the best protection from this first dose, and to get longer-term protection he also needs the second dose. Until cases decrease, more people are immunised and we are told otherwise, he must continue to shield.

More than 5,000 staff received their first jab during the mass vaccination drive in Glasgow
More than 5,000 staff received their first jab during the mass vaccination drive in Glasgow Picture: Alamy

I’m blown away by what our NHS achieved today

6.30pm The last couple of hours of the day, a time where communication with the coordinator is crucial. She knows how many people are booked to come in and carefully manages the vaccine stock. We are all conscious that we need to optimise doses and minimise waste so we tend to work together in smaller groups in the final hour. This way, we avoid having too many ampoules out of the fridge and we slow down the number of ampoules we dilute to avoid wasting any doses.

7.30pm The last appointments are in and we get them vaccinated. We all help to tidy and stock up. Those of us that do not have any vaccines left clean and close the bays and get stock ready for the bays that are still in use.

When I work at the vaccine sessions, it feels like a very small step in a very long road. The sooner we can protect as many people as possible, the sooner the pressure is taken off colleagues and fewer families will be devastated by the impact of COVID-19.

On the drive home I cannot help but get emotional. I am blown away by what our NHS achieved today and the enormity of what we are surrounded with as we live and work through a pandemic.

Today was a shining example of real collaboration in our NHS and 5,000 people putting their faith in it. We are so fortunate to have it.

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