1 September 2023
Barry Hospital has been home to the Vale of Glamorgan’s sole Mass Vaccination Centre (MVC) since 22nd April, 2023. While the location of the centre is relatively new, the team behind the scenes certainly isn’t.
Comprising of professionals from a variety of different clinical backgrounds, they have to date delivered more than 7,200 vaccinations at the site during the Covid-19 Spring Booster campaign alone.
But the team does far more than just protect people from nasty viruses. These friendly faces often go out of their way to help patients who mention other health problems, signposting them to appropriate NHS services and offering expert advice where they can.
Although demand on the MVC has subsided somewhat over the past few weeks, it’ll soon ramp up again when the flu and Covid-19 vaccination rollouts begin in earnest this Autumn and Winter. It’s widely known that both conditions can cause a seasonal spike in hospital admissions - and deaths – among older and more vulnerable people in particular.
All adults aged over 65, people in clinical risk groups and frontline health and social care workers will be among those eligible for both the flu and Covid-19 vaccines this time around, and appointment letters will start being posted through people’s doors in September. More information about the rollout in Cardiff and Vale University Health Board is below.
Many colleagues working in Barry MVC have seen first-hand the devastation Covid-19 and flu can cause from their time on intensive care and medical wards at the height of the pandemic, as well as during previous winters when flu was at its most prevalent.
Michelle Roderick (below) has spent more than two decades working for the Welsh NHS, starting her career on medical ward C7 at the University Hospital of Wales before spending 14 years in the maternity unit. She then went on to qualify as a pharmacy dispenser, a job she held for five years, before choosing to take on a band 3 vaccinator role when Covid-19 was sweeping the nation.
“When I first started, the [vaccination effort] was absolutely huge. We had crowds of more than 900 people coming in every day, the uptake was very good, and in truth it was quite an emotional time,” she recalled.
“Some people hadn’t been out of their homes for months, so we had to give them a lot of reassurance and inform them of what was going on. We were venturing into the unknown, but we took the time to sit with people, put them at ease and let them know that they’d made the right choice to come in.”
Michelle reiterated that the job of a vaccinator is about far more than just the jabs. “It’s about making sure people know why they’re having the vaccine and taking a general interest in them,” she added.
“People pour their hearts out to us a lot of the time, especially older as many of them live on their own. They say it’s been lovely to chat with us.”
Ahead of the Autumn/Winter rollout of flu and Covid-19 vaccinations, Michelle warned that people must not let vaccine fatigue get the better of them.
“I would encourage anybody who is eligible for the vaccine to come in to protect themselves and others around them,” she said. “I feel very proud to be a part of this team – I go home every day thinking I’ve made a difference.
“We can see the positive difference the vaccine has made in terms of hospital admissions, but Covid has still not gone away.”
Belinda “Bee” Lawes (above), a supervisor in the vaccination centre, has witnessed the terrible damage Covid-19 can cause. In her previous role in intensive care at the University Hospital of Wales, she saw patients becoming incredibly unwell with the virus and having to battle through it alone.
“It was a very difficult time,” she admitted. “Everyone was exhausted and families must have found it extremely hard as they weren’t able to come in and see their loved ones.”
When she transferred to her current vaccination role two years ago, she said she found it easy to emphasise the importance of having the Covid-19 vaccine. “I could see how sick people were getting at the time and the effect it was having on people around them.”
Bee said vaccinators are happy to signpost people to different NHS services should any health matters come up in conversation at their Covid or flu vaccine appointment. “They might tell us something is going on [with their health] so we’ll advise them to go to the GP, or perhaps Age Connects if it’s not health-related. We try and help people in different ways.”
One benefit, Bee added, of the pandemic has been the sheer breadth of people who have come from different clinical backgrounds to immunise people. “It’s an amazing team that continually changes. We’ve had consultants, GPs, midwives, nurses, healthcare support workers [all becoming vaccinators], and the knowledge we’ve been able to share to help people access different services has been phenomenal. We’ve also been very lucky to have amazing security, housekeepers and administration staff.”
Another employee who has experienced the true impact of Covid-19 and flu is Rachel Taylor (below), a supervisor at Barry MVC, who worked at B7 respiratory ward at UHW during the early stages of the pandemic.
“Everybody was extremely sick in that first wave [of Covid]. We looked after patients that were poorly enough to need a C-Pap mask,” she said.
“We saw oxygen levels on the monitors that we’d never really seen before in other respiratory illnesses. It was a desperate time for everybody.”
But once the Covid-19 vaccine rollout began in December 2020, Rachel said hospital admissions went down “dramatically”. “With each booster campaign we saw, within weeks, numbers of admissions falling,” she said.
Like her colleagues, Rachel added that the team really pulls together, often inadvertently, to help people who come in for their boosters. “While they’re here we have a lot of people talking to us about other health problems and we encourage them to seek support.
“It’s been great to be at Barry Hospital. We’ve been here a couple of months now and we’ve found everybody really welcoming. We’ve found people have been really happy to come in, everybody knows where it is here in the Vale, and we’ve settled in quite nicely.”
Rachel reaffirmed that winter is a “really tough time” for hospitals across Cardiff and the Vale of Glamorgan, and said protecting yourself with Covid-19 and flu vaccines will not only help Health Board employees, but their communities as well.
“It’s a vaccine that’s really quick and easy to come and get. Side effects, if any, will be short-lived and mild,” she concluded.
Here's a video of the three vaccinators and why they believe it's important to have the Covid-19 and flu boosters
People who will be eligible for the Covid-19 vaccine this Autumn and Winter include:
All adults aged 65 and over
Residents in care homes for older adults
People aged six months to 64 years old in a clinical risk group as laid out in the Immunisation Green Book
Frontline health and social care workers
People aged 12 to 64 years old who are household contacts (as defined in the Green Book) of people with immunosuppression
People aged 16 to 64 who are carers (as defined in the Green Book)
People who will be eligible for the flu vaccine include:
Children aged two and three years on August 31, 2023
Children in primary school from reception class to year 6 (inclusive)
Children in secondary school from year 7 to year 11 (inclusive)
People aged six months to 64 years in clinical risk groups
People aged 65 years and older (age on March 31, 2024)
All adult residents in Welsh prisons residents
People with a learning disability
Staff in nursing homes and care homes with regular client contact
Staff providing domiciliary care
Staff providing frontline NHS/Primary care services
Healthcare workers (including healthcare students) with direct patient contact
Children will be routinely given the nasal spray form of the flu vaccine as it is said to offer the best protection. However, they can be offered a flu vaccine injection if the nasal spray vaccine is not suitable for them. Injected flu vaccines are also safe and effective.
The two vaccines will be administered at the same time wherever possible, and appointment letters will start arriving at homes in September. While most people in the Vale of Glamorgan will attend Barry MVC, in Cardiff there will be new MVCs at the Wellbeing Hub in Maelfa, Llanederyn and Rookwood Hospital in Llandaff. More details on these will follow.
. After these drop-in sessions, the Health Board will revert to a Vaccination Champions and MVC appointments model. Staff who are immunosuppressed should not attend these sessions for their Covid-19 vaccination and should wait for an invitation for vaccination