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Pandemic protection: uncharted territory

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In this new article series, accuracy checking technician Paula Woodgate documents her experiences in setting up a Covid-19 vaccination centre. This first instalment sees her getting to grips with the pandemic and making the decision to offer her services to the local community

What a year it’s been! Since the start of first lockdown, like all pharmacies we’ve been incredibly busy here at Knights Oakwood Pharmacy in Birstall, West Yorkshire. 

It seemed like everybody ordered prescriptions all at the same time and sometimes we were working from seven o’clock in the morning and not leaving until eight or nine o’clock at night, just to keep things going. Deliveries went completely mad – everyone wanted them – and we decided to deliver to all over-70s who were shielding to make things easier for them, which meant the poor delivery drivers were inundated as well.

But what were we to do other than carry on like we’ve always done and serve the community as best we can? We kept doing everything that we were doing before, and the rest, keeping everyone happy, healthy and safe. Luckily, it got back onto an even keel after a few months and while the Covid-19 pandemic has certainly had its challenges, they’ve been challenges we’ve embraced.

A new venture

We knew that eventually the Covid-19 vaccinations would be ready, and when the time came, we were told by one of our superintendent pharmacists that the company was applying for every Knights Pharmacy to offer the service. As luck would have it, we were one of the three stores approved initially. I say “as luck would have it”, but I’m actually terrified of needles, so it was going to be yet another challenge to overcome.

During this approvals period, the new national protocol was introduced, which meant that pharmacy technicians would be able to do the vaccinations. As an accuracy checking technician (ACT), I decided that I’d give it a go and my fellow ACT Diane Chandler (pictured right, with pharmacist Jodie Fisher in the centre, and me) was going to join me on the training.

In December 2020, sat in the training room and surrounded by needles, I couldn’t help but think “why on earth am I doing this?”, but actually, once I got started, it was absolutely fine. The trainer told me that I had fantastic technique and I found myself really enjoying it.

There was so much to learn. As well as the half-day practical session, we had to do a lot of e-learning on anaphylaxis, the vaccinations themselves and all sorts of different things about Covid. And then, of course, there was a lot of reading of standard operating procedures and all the other paperwork to get us up to speed.

Final countdown

After the training, we had to work out where the vaccination centre was going to be situated and we came up with a strategy about how we were going to organise everything. It needed to be run as a completely separate entity to the pharmacy and consist of rooms that were accessible and suitable for purpose. We decided to use the upstairs rooms of the pharmacy and we were able to show the inspectors our set up over Zoom in early January 2021 – the police came to do an inspection too.

Once we got the go-ahead, it was a fairly quick process, and we didn’t have much time to think about it because there was so much going on. We got hundreds and hundreds of boxes of all the materials that we needed. There were needles, computers – everything you can possibly think of – coming out of our ears! 

By the final week of January 2021, we were ready for our first patients and it was all systems go.

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