Chinese whispers from the queue

Thank you to all our volunteers, 40 of us each day, led by Rotary, giving our time in support of the vaccine programme which is going so well nationally. Yesterday’s weather was horrible; worse at some times of the day but the spirit of all volunteers was amazing. As it poured rain in the early morning I spoke to those at the Civic Centre and was told “we are having fun”. I visited in the afternoon; the wind was cold and the puddles deep but the spirit remained happy. The queues of Friday evening were not repeated. Everyone who experiences what the vaccine means to those receiving is more than adequately rewarded by the unspoken gratitude in their demeanour.

The NHS site at Debenhams suffered a glitch early in the week. Perhaps it was a bit too ambitious too early and a combination of issues led to long queues in the cold. A review overnight improved the situation. Thank you to the additional volunteers who now attend each day. It will never be perfect to have to wait in the cold, particularly for the older generation who may not have been outdoors for a year, but protecting from the virus by distancing is a challenge. One hopes there will be no health problems following this unpleasant experience. There has never been a national effort on this scale or against such a threat before.

Today there was a small queue which was flowing nicely. Officers from the District Council were on hand to help. Foil wraps were by the door should they be necessary. The salvation Army was there with a snack truck last evening when the queue grew a little.

There is a great will for these centres to work and where there is a will there is a way. But of course there is still room for improvement. People arriving very early for their appointment were part of the reason for delays. But this morning I observed a couple forty five minutes early who were able to join the short queue immediately. They did not complain about the icy wind.

As the days pass the effort becomes more refined while Folkestone’s 42,000 people get vaccinated twice and possibly on an annual basis. It is lovely to be able to be part of it and we hope to continue to do our bit, just as volunteers helping the organising bodies.

It the meantime things may go wrong and lazy journalists will continue to write their articles based on a few individuals on Twitter. Isn’t it irritating how the opinion of one person can gain such prominence because the journalist does their research on twitter. “One person on twitter reported what a passer-by was reported to have said”, reported the journalist. The mind boggles where such Chinese whisper could go.

Thanks again to all our volunteers

Joe Sullivan

A Day in the Life of a Vaccination Volunteer (Part 3)

Why the @$&* do I have to queue said an early morning patient to the Civic Centre as they sat in the warmth of their car. “waiting for a new lease on life” seemed a suitably glib if unspoken reply as many more less kind replies rushed through the mind.

Unpleasantness and complainers are just like a virus. Their comments get right under the skin of the recipient and override all other compliments and good feelings. It preoccupies the mind it if is allowed. The person who perceives victimisation becomes a super spreader. The perceived insult grows in their thoughts and they are likely to tell up to twenty people about their problem. The new world of social media loves a victim.

The Civic Centre complements the work of the vaccination centre at Debenhams. Those who have difficulty with mobility can be vaccinated in the comfort, or relative comfort, of their car and be driven their by a friend or even by taxi.

Who would have thought just one year ago that people would be prepared to or expected to attend a medical clinic to be injected in the open air in the middle of winter. The large canopy under which some are injected withstood a tremendous storm on its first night. Thunder, hail, rain storms, snow, ice and puddles did not deter.

Volunteers have helped without complaint throughout, enabling the centre to vaccinate over 500 people in a day. Currently 39 marshals from this Rotary scheme support vaccinations in Folkestone each day. Importantly because of amazing support, we have the ability to respond very quickly if additional marshals are needed. After just one week we have well over 200 volunteers – a number growing each day – able to support the twelve hour, seven day a week vaccination programme. But we in Rotary are not the organisers. That is the work of the NHS. Rotary draws together people from the local community who use their skills for service to the community. We always welcome other likeminded people.

There are approximately 42,000 people over the age of eighteen in Folkestone each needs to be vaccinated twice.

Infection rates in Folkestone are currently very high and there is a risk that the success story of vaccination centres breathes complacency. We must all take responsibility for ourselves. One hears dreadful stories every day now of the sadness and hardship which the disease can cause.

What could be more sad than not being able to visit a seriously ill loved one; to only be able to keep contact by text and then suddenly the texts stop because the patient is sedated to be put on a ventilator.

Few of us have the privilege of being perfect. But there are many out there who demand standards of others which they cannot ever achieve in their own lives. So even if our vaccination centres get it wrong sometimes; we have never gone this way before but the end of the journey will be a better place.

The few unpleasantness’s which we endure are counterbalanced kind gesture of hot coffee and tea donated by the Clifton Hotel to the Civic Centre and by the Salvation Army to Debenhams.

A Day in the Life of a Vaccination Volunteer (Part 1)

The first day of Debenhams vaccine centre yesterday. I joined the first shift which ran at a slightly gentle pace so that they could see that all is in order. What an impressive set-up. All the staff in new scrubs. This is a professional looking centre with great ambitions; up to 3000 vaccinations it said on the TV this evening. The TV people were there talking to the boss of the Health Trust so they should know. The vaccine has breathed new life into the old building as well.

Once again there was a wonderful mood. There was a fantastic team spirit amongst the staff and it is easy to be enthused by the effect the vaccine has on these older patients. They are all happy as they leave. I encourage them to nourish the antibodies as they form in their arms. A pint of Guinness might do the trick. I suggested it many times. But where would you go to get it? came the replies. There was one person who tearfully said “I hate needles”. I am sure most people would have the vaccine by knitting needle so that they might visit their grandchildren soon or hug a friend.

You can feel this vaccine working. Not only is the building alive again but it is filled with real humanity, in the team spirit, with altruism, with the child-like joy of old people nearly skipping away and it has also engendered something extra special; a sense of community. The marshals just want to be there. One man said he was prepared to do as many days as possible. Many who email me to join with the volunteers say they want to be involved in any way possible.

We hope this will continue. We in Channel Rotary gave nearly £10,000 to schools for lap tops and tablets for the children in recent months. We gave £7000 to mental health charities during Lockdowns and many other donations to hardship funds. We gave for the Winter Shelter for the homeless, and to Age UK. Some of this fund was raised by a member of the club who swam in the sea every day of the last lockdown. More was raised by the Channel Triathlon in September which we were lucky to be able to run between lockdowns. It has been a bad year for fundraising but we did our bit. The other Rotary club in the town does similar work in the community as well. A virtual Santa’s Grotto!!! I don’t understand but it worked very well in raising funds.

So it will be fantastic when this is all over if at least some of our volunteers will continue to support our community service. There will be a time for that. But we can learn from what we can do together by each giving a little time – well, for some of us a bit more than that but that will pass as well. In a place like Debenhams this morning it is clear that one is but one little cog in the machine but without all those little bits of humanity nothing would happen.

It is a privilege to be part of it.

A Day in the Life of a Vaccination Volunteer (Part 2)

My first day volunteering at the first Vaccination Centre in the town which is in the Civic Centre in Folkestone, was rewarding in so many ways. I thought I should write about it here, a little every day, as I reflect on what it means to the recipients, to our community, to me and to everyone involved in administering it.

This Civic Centre site is a drive-through facility which was always going to be a challenge in mid-winter. Isn’t it amazing how this virus has changed us to love being outdoors; to sit on the beach on a frosty January day and sip coffee.

Neither the cold nor the rain nor working without cover seem to matter at the vaccination centre. There is a buzz. Brilliant enthusiasm to vaccinate as many people as possible.

The first cohort to receive the vaccine is the over eighties. One after the other – some in taxis – they are driven up. Many told me that they had not been out of the house since last March. Obviously scared, but scared of the virus – not the jab. Sometimes wearing a mask but often a scarf almost hiding their face, they have been deprived of company and after a year of sometimes very irresponsible television they are scared to be out but desperately wanting the vaccine.

It is their release to freedom and to be able to enjoy what is left of their lives. I didn’t see anyone fear the needle or ever the slightest sign of a wince as they had the jab. ‘Do you consent to being injected?’ I asked every time. ‘What a stupid question’ I am sure they thought. Why do you think I am here? but don’t come too close to me.

I overheard one man say: “that needle doesn’t look half the size it does on the telly”; the power of the media!

More than any medicine that they have had in their life this is a miracle drug. It is no placebo having a fantastic success rate but I am certain that it has a powerful placebo effect as well. It has amazing power to help to heal the fear and the feeling of despair and loneliness. It opens a door metaphorically and in reality to meeting friends and getting outdoors.

Being able to be there as a volunteer was a great feeling and it was for all of us. I along with a small team from Rotary’s two clubs in Folkestone have had the privilege to be able to offer the opportunity to members of our town to volunteer and be part of the vaccination programme. I have never seen people rally so willingly or so quickly to a cause. There is so much to say.

Tomorrow at 8am I will be a marshal at the first day of the second centre in the town in the old Debenhams store.

What would we do if this vaccine was not available.

Joe Sullivan.
Volunteer co-ordinator.