'We are determined to get on top of this, and we will': Inside St Albans' COVID vaccination centre

The COVID-19 vaccination team at Batchwood Hall, St Albans

The COVID-19 vaccination team at Batchwood Hall, St Albans - Credit: Supplied by The Lodge Health Partnership

Have you been lucky enough to head to St Albans' very own dedicated COVID vaccination clinic up at Batchwood Hall? The Herts Ad spoke with members of the team behind the district's roll out for an insight into what happens behind-the-scenes...

"It's a great thing to be part of," said Dr Sarah Dowling, who is a partner at The Lodge Health Partnership, said.

The clinic is a joint effort of eight GP practices across St Albans, which has been running at Batchwood Hall since December - a vaccination centre which went from being just a concept to a fully-operating service in under just a month. The initiative has already seen almost half of St Albans' over 80s vaccinated, as well as all staff and residents of older people's care homes. The team will have contacted the rest of the over 80s by next week.

Batchwood Hall

Batchwood Hall has been the home of St Albans' vaccination centre since December - Credit: Supplied by The Lodge Health Partnership

District nurse Charlotte Sharman said: "It's amazing how people have been co-operating and encouraging each other.

"People have really stepped up and taken on new roles and, for some people that might have been difficult, but they've really put themselves out there to learn new skills."

And the camaraderie doesn't stop there.

Liz Richards, whose job as practice manager across The Lodge Health Partnership has also included calling up patients for their appointments, noted that the programme has brought nurses from other surgeries - who worked in separate circles in a pre-pandemic time -  together: "It's been really lovely for them to meet a bigger peer group and to network. That's been a positive spin-off from the whole programme."

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And with a high percentage of the nursing staff at Batchwood's centre also receiving their potentially life-saving vaccines, Liz added that the roll-out is more robust as their staff are more protected.

"Everybody needs to play their small part by having the vaccine when it's their opportunity to have it," she said.

Nurse Charlotte is reassuring those who have any amount of fear surrounding their vaccination to not be afraid to attend. "You will be looked after well, and you will be treated as an individual. Although we are trying to get hundreds of the vaccines done, people are still respected, and given time and assistance if they need it."

Although still isn't solid evidence that COVID vaccines prevent transmission, Dr Dowling confirms that it's highly likely to "stop the fire progressing."

"Every person who has this is very likely to be stopping the virus going further," she added, explaining that it's not just about protecting your nearest and dearest. 

Charlotte interjected: "Even if you feel you're not somebody that's at risk, it's still worth having your vaccine.

"By protecting yourself by having the vaccine, you're less likely to spread the infection to someone vulnerable."

And with vaccination centres up and down the country hitting the headlines for outside queueing, our St Albans vaccination team have some advice for those lucky enough to have an appointment who may find themselves braving the elements...


Queues of over 80s formed at Batchwood Hall today (January 7) as part of the NHS' COVID-19 vaccination programme. - Credit: Stan Kiddle

"Those longer queues that you were seeing all over the country initially, I don't think we're going to have those as we're smoothing out, tweaking and getting it right," Sarah explained. "We would advise you to stay in your car until it's time for your appointment.

"Come on time, wrap up warm, but in layers so we can get to your arm easily. And with the Pfizer vaccine, be prepared to wait for 15 minutes afterwards. We have an area with heaters where you can sit and wait."

How can you help speed up the process?

Charlotte says: "If you've got any information with your address, date of birth, things like that, it makes it easier for us to get that information quickly. If you need a carer with you to help, that's fine, but if you don't need anybody, then it is best to come alone."

But what does it feel like to be such a vital part of a nationwide - and also global - effort?

Charlotte answered first, in a heartbeat: "I feel really privileged to be part of this campaign. I feel, every time I do a clinic, that I'm gaining in confidence and I feel the whole service is getting smoother and adapting to any problems that there have been. I think it's a great thing to be a part of and feeling like you really are making a difference. "

Dr Sarah added: "I feel very privileged to be part of this campaign. We are incredibly busy in the day job in addition to this, but the good will of all our staff and volunteers is huge.

"We are determined to get on top of this, and we will. This is a real, collaborative effort on behalf of all the practices in St Albans. We're all really pulling together."