The Leveller.

“The glories of our blood and state are shadows, not substantial things”

The first line of a poem I always recall written by James Shirley written in the first half of the seventeenth century when the Black death was raging in the UK. There was no vaccine in the seventeenth century so death was indeed the leveller. “Death lays its icy hand on kings”.

A strange way to start a report on the next phase of my journey, literal and metaphorical, to becoming a vaccinator. The physical journey in training and preparation took me to Whitfield for basic life support training, then to Maidstone for injection technique and onwards to East Malling for blood tests. A few more online modules and I was ready to go. It would have been easier I think to re-join the Dental Register from which I resigned just a year ago.

Finally my first day as a vaccinator arrived. Pleased to be part of this fantastic national effort I donned my scrubs, the uniform of the vaccinating team, with a little trepidation not having brandished a syringe for a while, and joined the briefing upstairs in Debenhams as part of an impressive gathering of some 50 colleagues, where I discovered that in its own way, the vaccine has been a great leveller.

But the training had further steps to go. A short period as an observer and then being observed finally enabled me to be signed off in competency for about thirty aspects of injecting the Pfizer vaccine. The same process followed for Astra Zeneca and will follow any time my role changes. There is no doubt that the process is thorough.

What is certain is that it also thoroughly explores ones determination to become a vaccinator. More than once I asked myself do I really want the hassle. The fragmented approval process was very frustrating. My colleagues on my first session included, an anaesthetist, a paediatrician, a GP, a midwife, a nurse, two other dentists and an orthodontist all of us retired. Three times in conversations I heard, without provocation, others echo my words of frustration, but all are there just to support the great national effort. We are all equal now.

“Sceptre and crown
Must tumble down
And in the duet be equal made”

What is fantastic to hear is the route of other colleagues to the vaccination force. A speech therapist, a health care assistant and someone who has just finished a health studies degree but had not found work, are indicative of how the training may open opportunities within the NHS for some who showed commitment and a work ethic; attributes of the vocation of nursing.

In my former national roles in my profession an issue which was highlighted was the difficulty women in particular found in returning to their work after years off for child rearing. Loss of self-confidence was a massive barrier. Research found that this was not just a problem for women. The fact that it was less common for men to have such periods away from work meant that it was not realised to be a problem. I discovered in conversation that training as a vaccinator and having to treat patients again has been a nice reintroduction for some, helping to regaining confidence.

But we are only part of the workforce. The volunteers form a similarly diverse group bringing skills and experience to their supportive role. The management of the flow of patients through the centre; assessing and observing them until they leave safely is as dependant on the volunteers as it is on the ‘uniformed’ workforce. They also understand the needs of the new vaccinator during induction, something for which I for one was very grateful. Everyone is very much an equal part of this wonderful team.

I have not forgotten the most important role of the pharmacists but they are hidden away, not to be distracted in their delicate task, not to be seen.

The vaccination programme has been amazing for the nation. It will no doubt have long-term benefits for recruitment in the NHS, it has been a time of discovery in the management of national projects and it has undoubtedly identified a great community spirit which we in Rotary hope we can build for the benefit of our community; from where further levelling will hopefully follow.

Now Shelly’s final words could be rewritten:

“Only the actions of the just
Smell sweet and blossom in the dust”

In the summer of 1665, when Shelly lived,15% of the population died.

The Bubonic plague of 1348-50 killed over 2,000,000 in the UK. 30-40% of the population.

Where would we be today without the vaccine?

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