Finally, a vaccine was found! A nurse immuniser since 2005, I decided to change jobs from aged care to help vaccinate the wider community.
Normally when one changes jobs, it’s a slow process, but things changed quickly during COVID. After making my decision, I contacted an agency and was offered a position as the team leader in a vaccination program. I was offered the position on Wednesday and asked if I could start the following Monday. One email to my manager saw me finish in aged care on the Friday and begin my new team leader role on the next Tuesday, the second day of the Pfizer vaccine rollout.
Tuesday morning, I arrived at an aged care facility in Melbourne, quite nervous about the day ahead. I had no idea what to expect but soon realised no-one else did either. A big team effort, with good communication between the facility and our vaccination team—the nurse immunisers, data entry staff and a logistics person—got us through the day.
Boxes and boxes of supplies awaited us when we arrived: printers, digital tablets, vaccination supplies, needles, blood pressure machines, gloves, antiseptic gel, tissues, pens and more. It was like Christmas opening each box to discover its contents.
On the first day, when we finally thought everything was ready to begin vaccinating, we realised we had no saline to dilute the vials. Several phone calls to our manager and then our logistics person headed off to the closest pharmacy for supplies. Then the computers didn’t work and we had to do all our data entry on paper and transfer it later. The ability to be flexible was essential in the early days!
Our vaccine would arrive by courier. We were never given an exact time, just that it would arrive by midday. It was flown from Sydney to Melbourne, then couriered to each vaccination team. When it arrived, it was like precious gold. We had a comprehensive process to follow when the vaccine arrived to ensure it was still viable.
I spent the next six months vaccinating in aged care facilities. The staff were brilliant, bringing residents to be vaccinated, escorting us to residents’ rooms when necessary and providing support during monitoring after vaccination. And all this in addition to their normal duties.
With limited supplies of vaccine in the early days we endeavoured not to waste any. We were required to document all vaccine usage and had to notify Canberra if more than five vials of vaccine went to waste, so we always did our best to use all the vaccine.
Our instructions were to vaccinate all residents, then staff, then allied health professionals on site, and then any family members present. Occasionally, we made phone calls to get people to come in just to prevent wastage. One paramedic in a rural town was offered his vaccination after a night shift. He wandered in looking a little sleepy, but grateful to get the vaccine.
I led one of the vaccination teams visiting aged care facilities from Albury to Mildura, visiting each facility twice to vaccinate residents and staff. Getting vaccine to Mildura entailed the vaccine flying from Sydney to Melbourne, then flying from Melbourne via Swan Hill to Mildura where it was then couriered to the facilities. On one occasion the vaccine arrived very late in the afternoon. The vaccination team, facility staff and residents had been waiting all day, but everyone was still happy to stay until the session was completed.
We had a lot of fun along the way with residents, sharing singalongs, travel documentaries and quizzes to help pass the time while we waited for the vaccine to arrive. We were lucky to have lunch provided in most facilities and I can confirm that all facilities provided excellent egg sandwiches!
Finally, all aged care facilities in our designated area had received two vaccination sessions and we moved on to disability services. After several months of travelling away from home each week, I decided that it was time to work closer to home and took a position at a local vaccination hub in my regional town.