All dressed up with somewhere to go: A day in the vaccine clinic

We spoke to our lovely Jan about her experience volunteering in a vaccine clinic.

Janet Browse, who goes by the name Jan, works on our Ripple Effect project, a bereavement counselling service. Jan has a reputation for bringing light and positivity to everyone at Age Better in Sheffield, despite the challenging nature of her work. So, when she mentioned that she had been volunteering in a vaccine clinic, we were ready to hear her tell us a story of hope and we were not disappointed.

“I became a member of the Covid-19 support group that was set up in my area in the first lockdown, to support people shielding with shopping and medicine pick-ups. When the flu vaccine came in last year, the group connected with the local medical centre to support people through their visit and the setup worked really well. So, when the Covid-19 vaccine came out and one of the GP surgeries became a vaccine centre, they decided to replicate the process with the vaccine centre.

There’re about 40 volunteers, our main communication is via WhatsApp and it’s actually been really nice to see members of the group in person. There were volunteers in the car park, freezing cold and wet, making sure people knew where to park their cars and how to get into the centre. The first thing I noticed when I arrived, when walking into the car park, was lots and lots of cheerful volunteers. It didn’t matter that they were cold and wet and had been stood on their feet for hours, they knew that people needed to see a smiling face – even if they were behind masks!

My role was in the waiting room, which was now at the end of the one-way system, where people sat after they had had the vaccine. They have to wait 15 minutes before they go just to make sure they didn’t have any side effects. It’s really hard work on the one hand, I was monitoring people as they came through, making sure they were all alright and we cleaned absolutely everything in between each person. Although it was hard work, you soon started to notice stuff that made my day. As people were coming in, I could tell they were quite anxious, they probably hadn’t been out of the house in months and suddenly they were in this waiting room which had about 40 chairs. Being in a room with this many people was quite odd, we had all the PPE on – visors, masks, aprons, gloves – and we were cleaning everything all time which hopefully will have made them feel a bit safer. I can’t imagine what that must have been like as their first proper outing since March 2020.

I started trying to jolly people up a bit if someone was clearly nervous. Once I had started up a conversation with people, I noticed that other people started chatting to each other – you’d suddenly get someone realise that they recognised a voice from the other side of the room and I would hear, “is that Bobby behind that mask??”. These were people in their 90s recognising people they had been to school with, go to the same lunch club or their children had grown up together. They started sharing their news for the year, there was some happy stuff (their families were doing alright and they had been in touch most days), but there were also people who had lost people in the year. As people were sharing their news, complete strangers were joining in the conversation to offer their support. It was 15 minutes of people’s time, but it was a little snapshot of what they’d been missing.

Another thing that stood out, was how fabulous they all looked. One lady had this amazing handbag and a matching pair of shoes, so I told her that she looked wonderful and she replied, telling me that she had bought them for her granddaughters wedding, which she had ended up missing (she had managed to watch it on video link). But for her, this was the next special day that she could wear them as getting vaccinated was something to celebrate. This sentiment was echoed round the room, it was such a momentous day for so many of them. Although I was told by many of them that it was the done thing to make an effort when you went to the doctors (who knew!), but so many of them truly had their Sunday best on. They were joking about doing the best they could with their hair given it hadn’t been cut for months. It did matter to people how they looked and a lot of them said they were glad they had dressed up because they’d seen someone they knew!

I came back from that experience with such a warm glow. In my line of work, where I see all the tragic stuff, doing something positive like this was important for me and my wellbeing, but I got 10x more out of it than I thought I was going to. Even though talking and having conversations wasn’t on the role description, it was the most important part. People came in feeling quote anxious and left with a smile on their face.