When the call went out for vaccinators to aid the national effort to respond to the Omicron variant, many of our staff with clinical experience put their hands in the air to help. One of those volunteers is Bernie McCulloch, Portfolio Lead for Healthcare Improvement Scotland’s Community Care programme. In this blog, Bernie explains what’s involved in being a vaccinator, and how people and healthcare professionals alike are rising to the continued challenge of the pandemic.

When the call went out for volunteers, it made perfect sense to me to become a vaccinator.

Taking my teenage son to get vaccinated I saw at first hand the long queues of people keen to play their part to help themselves and others in the continued pandemic. As a trained nurse, who has worked away from the frontline for a number of years, I instantly felt the moral obligation to dust down my skills and answer the call.

For me, the issue at hand is clear: the more people we can support to get vaccinated – especially in the wake of the Omicron variant in the lead up to the festive period – the better for everyone in Scotland. So I jumped at the opportunity to use my clinical skills and experience in a way that can make a real difference.

Getting the right training to make the right decisions

In my role as a vaccinator, I screen individuals, obtain consent and administer first and second COVID-19 doses,  boosters, as well as flu vaccines to those who are eligible. Similar to the COVID-19 vaccine, there are different types of flu vaccines depending on age and medical conditions.

The training to become a vaccinator takes place through extensive and comprehensive online courses and through physically shadowing of other vaccinators. As a trained nurse, I’m able to carry out assessments to determine the appropriate vaccine for people; to support this is the Green Book, which lays out all the side effects and contraindications for all vaccines. In addition, our training covers the legal aspects in relation to consent, how to fill in appropriate documentation and how to correctly handle people’s personal information.

Although the training is thorough, at the vaccination centres there is always support on hand: doctors, nurses, pharmacists and healthcare assistants – so, if you ever have any questions, there are other experts to call upon to help make the right decision for every patient. In addition, daily staff huddles, before the centres open to the public, help to ensure that any changes to national guidance are communicated effectively.

The spirit of togetherness

Aside from the feeling of helping to make a difference, it’s hugely satisfying to have patient contact again and reminds me of what it is that we do in the NHS: caring for people when they need it.

Those who turn up at the vaccination centres all want to be there, which is great to see. Sometimes people are spending hours queuing for the vaccine, but they are all grateful and appreciative to the healthcare workers, the volunteers and to the NHS. As a result, I try to make my interactions as person-centred as possible: thanking them for turning up, for doing the right thing for themselves and others, and for making the effort.

This feeling of us all being in it together also extends to those working at the vaccination centres. There’s a real appetite for everyone to help each other whenever it’s needed.

I’m also encountering people under 50, who are not eligible for the free vaccine, paying privately to get the flu vaccine from their local pharmacy. I think this shows how many people are seeing the benefits of vaccination programmes, and the important role they play in keeping them and other people safe.

The festive season and beyond

I continue to carry out my duties with Healthcare Improvement Scotland alongside shifts as a vaccinator. Over the festive period, I expect to undertake more shifts and in all likelihood into January also. But I’m looking forward to it. I hope that every vaccination that’s carried out takes us all one step closer to coming out of the pandemic, maybe saves a life, while at the same time bringing us all a little bit closer together as a society. If you haven’t been vaccinated yet, please come to one of the centres. We’d be delighted to see you. You’ll be helping yourself and helping everyone else around you too.

Bernie McCulloch is Portfolio Lead for Community Care in Healthcare Improvement Scotland’s ihub.