Rotary Volunteers

Fri 12th February 2021 at 1.58 pm - Sat 31st July 2021 - 3.58 pm

Volunteers at the Aylesham and Dover Vaccination Centres give their experiences

Rotary Mobilises Volunteers: Report 2 Volunteer Experiences

The Government target to vaccinate the over 70s and most vulnerable members of our society by mid-February has now been achieved.  The success of the programme is due to the commitment and ‘can do’ approach of the different sectors of the NHS working in partnership with local authorities and other organisations to set up vaccination centres.  The army of l volunteers who want to help and support the roll out of the programme has also been vital to its success so far.

The first report featured Area Coordinator Robin Dodridge whose role is to recruit and organise volunteers for local vaccination centres. Robin is now supported by a small group of fellow Rotarians to help with different aspects of volunteering.  Probably the most important development has been the introduction of an online appointment system which enables volunteers to book themselves into shifts and, if necessary, to cancel and reschedule them directly. Volunteer Andreas Tatt with his expertise in Excel is now running the Appointlet booking process which is a great help to Robin.  This is much more manageable and efficient than the original system.

 This report will focus on the experiences of volunteers at the Aylesham and Dover Vaccination Centres.  The volunteers included are Rotarians or spouses of Rotarians, However, many volunteers are friends, family, neighbours or members of the public who just want to help. 

The Aylesham Vaccination Centre, set up by the East Kent Community NHS Trust, opened on 28th December.  Rotarian John Dunkley was one of the first volunteers to help there and was able to give fellow Rotary members an idea of what was involved.  

John writes:

‘The centre is not usually for the general public but for NHS staff, dentists, other healthcare workers and Funeral Directors. To date the centre has only used the Pfizer vaccine. The system of checking patients in, followed by the actual vaccination and then 15 minutes in the restroom works quite well most of the time.  Those to be vaccinated are channelled two metres apart through the different procedures, which can be a challenge at times because of the size of the facility with quite narrow corridors. If there is a holdup, for example the wifi going down and the checking in pauses or the next batch of vaccine is not quite ready, a queue can form and this has to be mainly outside.  There is only one main entrance at Aylesham which is a doctors’ surgery as well as a centre for dentistry and midwifery, so on weekdays it can be busy with patients arriving and care has to be taken to channel those arriving for vaccination in the right direction. At weekends when the general surgery is closed it is much easier. 

I’m not sure of the total number of vaccinations carried out at Aylesham but it was around 400 or more a day.  Overall it seems to have been a successful NHS vaccination centre, one of the first set up in Kent.’

The Aylesham centre closed for vaccinations at the end of January but will be opening again on the 21st March to begin delivery of the second vaccinations to NHS and other healthcare workers.  John and his wife Sue now volunteer at the Dover Vaccination Centre. Another volunteer who started at Aylesham before moving to Dover Centre is Stella Playforth, whose husband is a Rotarian.

Stella writes:

‘When the call went out for volunteers to help with marshalling at the vaccination centres I was delighted to help as everything else I am involved in is either shut or not available due to restrictions.  It was also an opportunity to help in a small way and to feel useful.

My first three shifts were at Aylesham, not a place I know well.   The medical centre is excellent with good facilities and car park.  After a safety run down and being shown where everything was it was action stations.  All the people coming in were health care workers and quite young.  Some were a little apprehensive, not about receiving the jab but about having an injection; most were excited.  My task was to guide people from the vaccination rooms to outside and along to another door where they had to wait for 15 minutes.  Everything went very smoothly except for an IT problem on the second day which meant people had to wait outside for about half an hour.    I did three shifts there before transferring to the Dover Medical Centre.

Dover Medical Centre is a place I worked in many moons ago; I was pleased to see it had been modernised.  There are always 4 or 5 people on shift.  Our duties are either car park where we check patients’ times and tell them where to go; door marshal where we again check time, wearing the mask correctly and health check.  There are 3 other marshals in the main area and their job is to ask patients to sanitize their hands and direct them to reception and then onto the chairs ready for their jabs.  We also have to sanitize the chairs after patients have vacated them.   When we were doing the 80 plus group some people said they had not been out since March!  Most of this group came with a helper or a walking aid that added to the mix.  I did notice some people having their photo taken with their vaccination card.   Everyone was very keen to have the jab as they saw it as a way back to normal.

We are currently doing the 70 year olds and those with underlying health problems.  Some people are needle phobic so it was brave of them to come; this underlines their determination to get back to some sort of normal.

I feel quite privileged to have helped in a small way this mammoth undertaking.   Robin Dodridge has been fantastic, organising the rotas and sending out regular bulletins.’

Two stalwart volunteers at the Dover Vaccination Centre are Shirley Eberlein and her husband Andrew, a member of the Rotary Club of South Foreland.

Shirley writes:

During the first lockdown, the most exciting thing I did was to grow my hair out to see what natural colour remained – unsurprisingly, none at all!  This time round, I have had the opportunity to do something much more worthwhile.

Along with many other Rotarians, Andrew was amongst the first to volunteer, but it was obvious from the start that more people were required to man Aylesham and Dover Health Centre Vaccination hubs 08:00am-20:00pm, seven days a week.  Other halves and friends were recruited, and with a little trepidation, I joined the ranks.

Shifts last four hours.  Duties include welcoming patients; asking some screening questions; ensuring they remain socially distanced; guiding them through the building and wiping down chairs once vacated.  If the Pfizer vaccine has been administered, we monitor and observe them for ten minutes post-vaccination for possible side effects, before wishing them well and sending them on their way. These admin roles relieve the pressure on the NHS staff, freeing them to perform far more important tasks, such as vaccinating!  I have also been writing and updating marshals’ duties/instructions, which ensure a smooth flow through the system, following NHS Covid guidelines, keeping themselves and patients safe.

Volunteering is reported to have beneficial effects on both mental and physical health, which I have found to be the case.  Getting out of the house to do something worthwhile, meeting people and working towards the common good has worked wonders for me.  I have been humbled by the thanks received from the NHS staff and many vulnerable or elderly patients, several of whom have not been out of their homes for nearly a year.  They are eternally grateful and volunteering has restored my faith in humanity.’

Peter West is another member of The Rotary Club of South Foreland who has been a regular volunteer at the Dover Vaccination Centre since it opened on 11th January, as well as at Aylesham.  His wife Eileen and son James have also volunteered.

Peter in his personal account of volunteering writes:

‘Service is at the heart of Rotary and the COVID-19 pandemic has given us unparalleled opportunities to serve our own community.  Doing so has drawn on so many skills that have, perhaps, lain dormant for years.  Working at our two centres, Aylesham and Dover, is very different.  I shall begin with Dover.

Taken at face value, the task is simple; we act as marshals, directing people along the path that takes them from the car park to the point where they actually receive the injection.  What could be simpler?  Remember that the first to be offered the jab were in their eighties and nineties with all the attendant problems that age can bring.  There were people with physical difficulties like hearing and sight loss, people with dementia and some who were too frail to walk from the car park to the building.  Some had not been out of their house for nearly a year and many of those were nervous about mixing with others.  Maybe marshalling them is not such a simple job.  It requires tact, kindness and a certain amount of persistence.  Fortunately, most of our clients are a cheerful lot and happy to cooperate as best they can.  It is quite humbling when so many of them express their profound thanks for all that we have done for them. 

The marshals have set tasks such as welcoming people as they arrive at the door, inviting them in and making sure that they have a booked appointment. Next, they are asked to use hand sanitiser and directed to the counter where they are checked in.  Occasionally someone has refused to wear a face mask and sometimes their breathing difficulty has been all too obvious.  The doctor in charge has always been happy to take on the problem and speak to them, so the volunteer can step back and leave it to the expert.  Working as the car park marshal can be fun, apart from the mirth that has been generated around the need to operate a large broom to get rid of the puddle that forms on the footpath to the Health Centre.  It is best not to pay too much attention to the standards of driving and parking that we see. The task is as an information point, giving directions and answering questions. It pays to be alert to people who are struggling with mobility and breathing issues. Thus, marshals have occasionally had to dash inside to find the wheelchair or take some other action. 

Aylesham has concentrated on vaccinating health and care workers so the age range tends to be lower and most of them are in an environment that they find comfortable, so there is much less of a caring role for us.  The work is mainly directing people along the rather tortuous path through the building, opening security doors for them and managing the queue outside.

One of the great things about any Rotary activity is camaraderie.  There are members of four Rotary clubs, their families and many other volunteers.  We work in groups of four or five so we quickly get to know each other.  Additionally, it has been a pleasure to meet people I have not seen for a long time – NHS workers, volunteers and, of course, clients.  There are also those passing conversations with some very interesting people. Some mention their past association with Rotary or another service organisation. 

Like most volunteering, the experience is very satisfying.  In the current lockdown it may also afford the opportunity to interact with other people which would not otherwise occur.  One does have to display some forbearance when rotas get changed at the last minute or, frequently, when there is a delay in the supply of vaccine and the centre has to close for a couple of days.  Overall, however, it is good to be part of such a worthwhile exercise and to play a tiny part in the solution to one of the greatest emergencies to affect the world in our lifetime.’

It is clear from the experiences described above that volunteers are performing an invaluable service to their local communities in the face of the world coronavirus pandemic.  They are also gaining personally from their involvement: meeting other people and working for the common good is a satisfying experience. There are problems at times due to inconsistent supply of vaccines, bad weather, such as the recent snow, unreliable technology or having to adjust procedures as circumstances change. Being adaptable is important. However, the vaccination programme is a great success though it is a long haul programme which will continue until the majority of our population is vaccinated twice. There are wider issues such as countries throughout the world needing to have successful vaccination programmes, not just our country, if international trade, travel and tourism is to recover; or adapting current vaccinations to combat variant viruses where needed in the future; how long will vaccination give immunity is another related issue. The principles of Hands-Face-Space and Test-Trace-Isolate will continue to be  needed alongside vaccination if the pandemic is to be controlled.

Whatever happens volunteers are going to be important to help at vaccination centres in the foreseeable future. Many thanks to those who have contributed to this feature and to all the other volunteers who are helping locally. Volunteers have been much appreciated by the general public as both Shirley and Peter have mentioned. Organiser Robin Dodridge has also received many comments in praise of volunteers.  At present we have enough volunteers to cope at Dover but when Aylesham opens again on 21st March more will be needed.  There may also be greater demand as more vaccination centres open to cope with the larger number of people in the lower age groups needing vaccination.

Online - To find out more about volunteering and how to join visit: the rotary club of south foreland homepage