A celebration of community collaboration—the vaccine “makers” give us hope

“Those intense but meaningful days remind me of why I wanted to be a doctor. I ended up exhausted and wired, unable to sleep well, yet with a profound sense of the affirmation of life. It is a tale of optimism and hope, of a community united in a common purpose of fighting back together against a disease that has disrupted our lives like nothing any of us have ever lived through.” Oliver Hart, the clinical director for Heeley Plus Primary Care Network (PCN) reports on a remarkable few days of work on the vaccination programme. 

Over the course of three and a half days the primary care vaccine hub site in Heeley, Sheffield, delivered over 2400 doses of the Pfizer Biotech covid vaccine, and 150 of the AstraZeneca vaccine. It needed careful attention to the requirements of fragile vaccines and an imperative to minimise the risk of spreading the covid-19 virus. It was a collaborative partnership between vaccinators, managerial, and admin staff from the eight inner city practices of the primary care network, car park attendants, and many volunteers from the local community.

For a number of this first cohort of older patients it was the first time they had dared emerge from their home for 10 months. Many came on the arms of relatives, with walking frames or in wheelchairs. Some were anxious and scared, and yet excited and hugely grateful for a ray of hope. Despite the rain, snow and cold, less than 1% of people did not attend their appointment.

For the vaccinators it was a hugely moving and privileged position to be in, to offer a gift that could literally be a life saver. They have been responding to distress and suffering in their patients and communities for the last 10 months. It was a welcome tonic to everyone. For volunteers it felt as though they were offering real personal care rather than the previously remote telephone or on-line support. Social distancing, shielding, and isolating seems to have had dehumanising effects, with people feeling irrelevant and forgotten. It was important that people weren’t just treated as a number to be jabbed, how we did this felt as important as the vaccination itself. It was born of the trusting relationships built up over time and particularly the last few months.

This was a huge logistical challenge. There were just five days to deliver 2500 appointments in 10 minute blocks. Help was at hand from the innovative Accubook text invitation services and some savvy IT literate staff. But most important was the can-do attitude and dedication of managers and admin staff. This piece is a celebration and not the place to raise concerns about the supply chain and NHS bureaucracy, which did generate challenges.

The PCN are partners with Heeley Trust, the local community anchor organisation and link worker providers. They have been helping to build a social prescribing offer relevant to their communities and they drew in a huge number of volunteers. They played a key role meeting and greeting, guiding people safely around the one-way system at a safe social distance and ensuring masks and hand gel were properly employed. More than that, they created a warm and welcoming atmosphere, reminiscent of the 2012 Olympic “games makers.”  The community had its very own vaccine “makers.” These volunteers helped refresh the feeling of compassion and caring for them as people, fellow human beings. 

As well as creating a feel-good atmosphere it was hoped that with less anxiety in the air, it reduced the likelihood of reactions (there was 1 faint in 2500 people).  It is known that stress and associated cortisol reactions impairs immune response, so perhaps this dose of humanity also primed people for a good immune response? Everyone was left with an overarching feeling of a community pulling together. This will be needed to create a sustainable vaccination programme over the coming months.

Since April 2020, the Heeley neighbourhood in Sheffield UK has pioneered evidence based, proactive and progressive community public health approaches to the pandemic. They piloted a workable model for find, test, trace, isolate and support (FTTIS). There is well established collaborative working between Heeley-Plus PCN and Heeley Trust. These relationships have been central to the success of the vaccine roll out in this neighbourhood. We therefore urge the government to redirect their attention and resources for the vaccination programme and Find, Track, Trace, Isolate and Support services to local authorities and directors of public health. They in turn need to direct their attention and funding down to neighbourhood levels which can deliver the sort of human care demonstrated in this paper. 

Oliver Hart, Clinical Lead, Heeley Plus PCN Sheffield

Andy Jackson, CEO, Heeley Trust Sheffield

Steve Pagden, Volunteer, Sheffield Community Contact Tracers

Jack Czauderna, Retired Family Doctor, Sheffield Community Contact Tracers

Paul Redgrave, Retired Director of Public Heath, Sheffield Community Contact Tracers

Conflict of interests: none declared