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FOCUS: Vaccination - "we've got to get it right"

FOCUS: Vaccination -

Tuesday 01 December 2020

FOCUS: Vaccination - "we've got to get it right"


Possibly before the end of this year, Jersey will embark on one of the biggest public health projects it has ever undertaken: vaccinating large sections of the population quickly - and possibly doing it twice.

It's not yet certain when the first doses of covid-19 vaccine will arrive, but it is likely that it will need to be administered cold, given multiple times and certainly via a jab rather than a spray.

And that program will need to be delivered at a time of heightened public tension, while managing a significant infection risk, with a vaccine which is new to science, and focussing initially on people who are all vulnerable. 

It's a considerable logistical task - and so Express caught up with the lady in charge of achieving it: Becky Sherrington, Head of covid-19 Vaccination Delivery.

"I trained as a nurse in Salford and Bolton. I then worked in Oxford in the John Radcliffe, working in coronary care and cardiothoracics. I worked in London, again in thoracic surgery at the Royal Brompton. I did some community jobs setting up community services. I also worked in Guernsey as a nurse consultant respiratory care, and whilst I was in that post I worked closely with Public Health England on Smoking Cessation and was also part of the national asthma deaths report panel. I then came here and I was the Associate Chief Nurse at the hospital, and I did that before coming into Public Health Jersey to support them around shielding, which I've been doing. And then I took on the vaccination piece."

How do you feel being the lead for the vaccination programme?

"As a nurse, I feel incredibly proud that we're a part of this, but I honestly don't see myself as a single person in this. I honestly don't. I see myself as a team and it's not just me at all. This is a huge team that are supporting and I'm just part of that team, and to get us over the line. But it's an incredibly exciting but also incredibly terrifying project, because we've got to get it right. So, all the team are working really hard on this. 

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Pictured: Fort Regent will be the island's vaccination centre

How many people are involved? 

"We've got various numbers of people. We've got a digital aspect. We need to make sure we've got a booking system and a digital record. We've got a Workforce lead who has got an incredible part of the team to get the workforce in place to supply the vaccinations. We have a Comms lead. We've got information governance because we need to make sure we've got quite a lot of data sharing and we need to make sure that's correct. We've got project managers. So, we've got a small team really in terms of actual numbers of people, but they're all incredibly hard-working and we've all forgotten what weekends are like now. 

What kind of work has been involved in setting up a program of this scale? 

"So, I've not personally set up a vaccination programme before. I have set up services in south-west London and I've also managed large teams of people. So, I've got the experience of that. I've also got experience around quality and safety. To get me into a position where I understand far more about vaccinations, I've been working with the Department of Health and Social Care. I've also a part of the JCVI which is the Joint Committee of Vaccinations, I'm an observer in those weekly meetings so again that’s really taught me a huge amount. And I'm also working with my colleagues in the Isle of Man and Guernsey. 

What kind of things have you had to look at, and what kind of things you need to plan for?

"We need to decide how many people we're going to vaccinate, how many times we're going to vaccinate them. So, it'll be far easier to vaccinate somebody with a nasal spray. Well, we're not doing that. We're giving a vaccine that you've got to dilute. It's got to be cold. You've got to give two doses so in fact we're vaccinating the island twice in a really short period of time.

"And we're doing a Call for Action where we're asking all practitioners to sign up to support us in the vaccination programme for the mass vaccine. Logistics is really important as well, and our Operational Lead has got a great experience in logistics. So, he comes from an army background so he's going to be really supporting us around the logistics of it. Actually the vaccination is a really simple bit. Stabbing someone in the arm and giving them a really tiny amount of liquid is really simple. It's all the bits that are before that that are harder to get right.

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Pictured: it's hoped a vaccine will reduce the number of symptomatic cases

How do you approach mistrust from the public and do you have any concerns that it might affect the take-up of the vaccine in the island? 

"I understand there will be concern. There's always concern. But it's around assurance. We knew there was a pandemic, we know that pandemics occur. And so the government knew that we needed to have systems in place that when the pandemic occurred, we could go really quickly. So, there's a fantastic illustration from Oxford University, how they were prepared for this. So, they'd got the manufacturers ready to start supplying vaccines as soon as they knew how to make them. They'd got the scientists ready to go. They'd got volunteers ready to receive the vaccines when they'd got one to start trialling them. So, all of those things had been put in place. The funding was available. So, when you look at developing a vaccine you don't normally have all those things in place. You've got to get the funding. You've got to get approval. You've got to get volunteers. So, that's a really long process and that's been sped up because of the point we're in at the moment. 

"So, in terms of vaccine process, they all go through the same trial process. This has as well. So, there are three phases of development of trials. You need to go through each of those three stages and that's been through these three stages so that compares to the other vaccines. 

Do you have any particular concerns?

"So, the biggest risk is that there's no certainty at the moment over the amount of vaccines that we receive and the guidance that's going to be given, so we need to be really agile in how we deliver it. The tiers may change, for example. So, we're really mindful that these things might change and all the way through the guidance has been changing, and how we're going to deliver it has changed a lot, much to my team's absolute horror. So, we're keeping an eye on the evidence and we're going to have to deliver it potentially differently in different aspects, so that's probably the biggest risk, that we might need to change our plans. 

What would be the the best case scenario? 

"Best case scenario is that we come through this by the middle of next year and we've got a huge amount of people vaccinated and we can start to return to normal life. That would be amazing. 

We've talked a lot about the wellbeing of the people involved - how do you, and the team, feel? 

"We haven't had much time for downtime, I think, and at the end of this, drinks are definitely on me. It's a cliché, but I am blessed with the team that I'm working with. They are amazing and we're all learning. We're all trying to look after each other and I'm sure I will look back at this once my adrenaline stopped and I'm not thinking continually about vaccines and think that, 'This was an amazing time.' 

"I have a lot of support around me. So, there's an SRO, the Director General, Julian Blazeby, is hugely supportive. I'm also working with the Public Health Director General Tom Walker. So, I've got a lot of support around me which is really important so there is a government team around me supporting me as well. I feel really supported. Yes. 

"Nurses are used to just getting on and doing it."

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Posted by Private Individual on
Let us hope the thought of compulsory vaccination is not on the agenda.

The UK has clearly stated today that they will not be pursuing this option. It should be the individual who decides if they want this vaccine, under no circumstances should it be forced on an individual to have it. I don't like needles and the thought of being forced upon you is very worrying.
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