It is barely a month since the first community vaccination centre in Wythenshawe opened its doors, but in true lockdown fashion, it seems like that was either about two seconds or a hundred years ago. In that time approximately 200,000 people from Greater Manchester have had the jab – that’s over 7% of the population. 

Add to this the recent news that every care home resident in Manchester has now been vaccinated against COVID-19 and it makes sense that the programme has been greeted as a triumph. But while the headlines focus on the figures, such a Herculean task would not be possible without some very human efforts behind the scenes.

At the end of the day if there’s leftovers it will get really busy – people want the vaccine!

In Manchester, well over a thousand volunteers came forward to help doctors, nurses and NHS staff administer the vaccine. With no medical expertise, these ordinary folks are providing the kind of organisational backbone we don’t perhaps immediately think of but is very necessary if we want to get back on the road to normality. 

Confidentials spoke to one such volunteer to find out what exactly needs doing.  A year ago, Claire Kelsey was celebrating ten years of Ginger’s Comfort Emporium, selling her signature ice creams – in intriguing flavours such as hibiscus and white chocolate or marmalade on toast - from her parlour in Affleck’s Palace, or on the road in her vintage van. Fast-forward to 2021 and she has all but paused the business and instead is donning a hi-vis tabard as she joins the vaccination effort.

How did you become a vaccine volunteer?

Claire: "There are lots of different ways you can volunteer - through St John’s Ambulance and organisations like that. I just responded to a tweet and it was a link to a Primary Healthcare Trust. They are working with the central NHS but at sites out in the community, because of course, you need sites out all over the place to get to the people that need it. I’ve been to Beswick, I’ve been to Newton Heath and later this week I’m going to Blackley, that’s just a stone’s throw from the big one at the Etihad, but they’re all needed. Some pharmacies are doing it too, and then the NHS is making use of lots of community hubs."

Can you tell me about some of the roles at the vaccine sites? What is your role?

"I suppose you’d call it a Covid Marshall, but it’s a variety of things. You’ve got the GPs and the medical practitioners, pharmacists, ex-nurses, all administering the vaccine. Then you have an administrator taking everyone’s details and then I’ll be in a team of volunteers who will be helping people, working in the car park, greeting people at the door, making sure they know where they are going and that they’re in the right place. Then we take them through the process because once they’ve registered they have to go in a pod for the vaccine to be administered. After that they go to a waiting room and wait for 15 minutes to see if they have any sort of reaction – so we are timing them and making sure they are ok, then letting them know they can go. At the moment they are in the age group where they might need a wheelchair so just a bit of extra help there too."

Do you ever feel worried about exposing yourself to the virus?

"Not worried at all. I don’t think anyone is particularly, or we wouldn’t have volunteered! We’ve got masks and plenty of handwash stations and we’re following protocol. But it doesn’t really cross my mind."

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The Football and Tennis Centre at the Etihad Campus is hosting the vaccine centre

The people coming in must be really relieved to be getting the vaccine

"I think there has been a really good uptake. There have been some missed appointments, but yeah, I think everyone wants to get jabs! Everyone is relieved to get it done.

"We are currently doing the Pfizer vaccine which has to be used in a day, and at the end of the day, if there are leftovers it will get really busy – people want it! So if there is some at the end of the day they just call up more people on the list and keep working through it until it’s all used."

I did read that some older people weren’t getting contacted because they’d didn’t have mobiles to receive a text. Is it well organised do you think?

"In my experience, it’s been incredibly well organised. I’ve been really impressed by the infrastructure that’s been put in from the top down because there seems to be plenty of vaccine, plenty of hubs, plenty of doctors, plenty of volunteers. Even the signage is really well produced – big vinyl banners everywhere letting you know exactly where you need to go. People get texts or they get letters and then we are on hand with anything they might need. Yes there have been busy spells and sometimes things like roadworks outside don’t help, but on the whole, I think it’s going really well."

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Claire manning the vintage van

What’s happening with your business right now? It must be a tough time.

"As soon as the markets get going and we can start selling again, we can open the parlour. Right now I’m trying not to push things, I have done some deliveries to deal with stock but mostly I’m just concentrating on the volunteering. Speaking to the other volunteers, we are all doing it for the same sort of reasons – just to get out and see people and speak to new people, that’s quite an important aspect to all of us, chatting to new people and helping out a bit because we’ve got time.

"Everyone’s experiences in the last year have been so different, some people are having to work from home and homeschool at the same time. I’ve had the completely opposite experience. Yes, I’ve had to navigate a small business through this but I don’t have kids at home. It’s a bit like in the war – when people say we were on the front line or dug for victory, but with this, all you can really do is stay home. It’s really frustrating to think that people need help but you can’t get out to them, to find out what’s going on or who needs what. This lets me do that. It’s not like I’m doing anything amazing - I feel like this is the least I can do."

If you are interested in volunteering please click on the link below to see where you could help.

Read now: COVID-19 update: "the position will be extremely challenging for some weeks to come

Read again: 2020 the calamitous year we'd rather forget

Community pharmacies join vaccine rollout

Six new vaccine sites in Greater Manchester have joined the biggest vaccination programme in NHS history.

Jane Pilkington, director for population health, Greater Manchester Health and Social Care Partnership, said:

“We have already made real progress in delivering the Covid-19 vaccine across Greater Manchester. This will be expanded significantly as we ramp up delivery in the weeks ahead with our new pharmacy-led vaccine sites playing a key part. As trusted members of the local communities they serve, our pharmacy teams continue to work tirelessly to provide a vital service during this pandemic, often acting as the first port of call for expert health advice. So, it is fitting that they will have a critical role in delivering the Covid-19 vaccine.”

The sites are:

  • Everest Pharmacy, 117B Withington Road, Whalley Range, Manchester M16 8EE
  • Whalley Range Cricket and Tennis Club, Kingsbrook Road, Whalley Range, Manchester M16 8NR (operated by Wilbraham Pharmacy)
  • MMC College, 20 Humphrey Street, Cheetham Hill, Manchester M8 9JR (operated by Wellfield Pharmacy)
  • Superdrug, 7-9 Piccadilly, Manchester M1 1LZ
  • The Larkhill Centre, Thorley Lane, Timperley, Altrincham WA15 7AZ (operated by Timperley Pharmacy)
  • Hollowood Chemist, 11 Mesnes Street, Wigan WN1 1QP