Ex-BBC man on booster front-line reveals what encourages young Londoners to get jabbed

·3-min read
One in the arm: St John Ambulance volunteer vaccinator Russel Hayes in action (St John Ambulance)
One in the arm: St John Ambulance volunteer vaccinator Russel Hayes in action (St John Ambulance)

A volunteer vaccinator has revealed what encourages reluctant younger Londoners to come forward to get jabbed.

Russel Hayes, a retired BBC reporter, said Government announcements about the need for Covid passports to enter entertainment venues and nightclubs always resulted in a spike in attendances.

“The effect that has is absolutely clear — it does encourage people to get vaccinated when they might not have done so,” he told the Evening Standard.

“It always produces quite a spike in the number of people we see who have not been vaccinated at all, or who haven’t had their second vaccine, to come and get it.”

He told of the exhausting but rewarding workload as an army of NHS staff, pharmacists and unpaid helpers raced to get boosters into arms to stem the spread of Omicron — while countering anti-vax misinformation.

Mr Hayes has been volunteering with St John Ambulance in Ealing, where pharmacy-led vaccinators have been set up in church halls.

He said: “It’s been very, very busy for many weeks now. Last weekend they did just over 1,000 people, which is a lot for a non-mass vaccination site.

“It’s mostly boosters but we do get a few people a day coming in for their first vaccination, particularly young people in their twenties.

“Every time I have been there it has been utterly relentless. It never stops from 9am until we close at 5.30pm. It’s been consistently very, very busy. It would be hard to do any more. It never stops.”

More than 968,000 boosters and third doses were given across the UK on Tuesday but it fell back to 840,000 on Wednesday, including 96,603 in London.

Russel Hayes:
Russel Hayes:

Mr Hayes, a former business and economics correspondent for the BBC who helped arrange the move to New Broadcasting House, said Boris Johnson’s hope of giving a million boosters a day by the end of December was a “very big stretch”.

St John Ambulance has trained about 30,000 vaccinators and is urging trained volunteers to come back to help. This means extra help can be provided to the vaccination effort far more quickly than training a new cohort of volunteers.

Mr Hayes previously worked at a NHS-run vaccination centre at Harlequins rugby ground in Twickenham between March and August.

He said there were fewer volunteers now than at the start of the pandemic.

“What has happened is that people got fed up with that and they dropped out,” he said. “A lot of people have gone back to work. The net result is they have a lot of people on their books, but people who are dormant.

“Now you can get work any time you want it. There is a real shortage of people. They’re constantly appealing for more people to come forward. It’s difficult to step up capacity a lot unless they can find a lot more vaccinators.”

In addition, pharmacy-run sites have fewer staff — meaning the vaccinator has to do more of the administrative protocol themselves before giving the jab.

He takes time to explain the truth about vaccines to people who were reluctant to get jabbed.

He said: “There is a lot of misunderstanding. There is a lot of social media nonsense. It’s causing a significant problem, particularly in the younger generation who have some off misconceptions.

“They are pretty intensive days. I’ve been doing two or three shifts a week and you are absolutely wrung out after them. You can never stop concentrating.

“You want to give back. I have done a lot of advanced first aid during my previous job, and safety was embedded in the culture. I believe in what we are doing. The vaccines are here if people want to come.”

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