Inside Covid-19 vaccine centre as St John Ambulance train 30,000 volunteers to give jab

Eufemia Didonato

It’s the shot in the arm the whole country is waiting for – and this week we saw how St John Ambulance plan to help with the mass Covid-19 vaccination programme. The charity is planning to train an army of 30,500 volunteers between now and next spring to help the […]

It’s the shot in the arm the whole country is waiting for – and this week we saw how St John Ambulance plan to help with the mass Covid-19 vaccination programme.

The charity is planning to train an army of 30,500 volunteers between now and next spring to help the NHS administer the vaccine.

We visited their training centre in Wolverhampton to see the high levels of training being provided to bring people up to the high standards required by the NHS.

St John Ambulance are looking for people to help in a range of roles – not just those administering the jabs, but also patient advocates and first aiders.

St John Ambulance already has 10,000 volunteers but needs 20,000 more

Volunteers will be kitted out with full PPE, including masks, visors, gloves and aprons as they deliver the vaccine across the UK.

Construction health and safety consultant Fran Watkins, who has been volunteering since 1986, said: “Volunteers will receive 20 hours training, 12 online and then eight face to face in centres like this one.

“We’ve got to make it as Covid secure as possible, so groups will be limited to maybe 10 or 12 people. There will be a range of roles and we will make sure they all meet NHS requirements.

“It will cover basic first aid, patient care and also the vaccination process. Volunteers will need to have the right skills in supporting people and dealing with people’s concerns.”

Inside the training centre

Social distancing will be in place

She said the mass vaccinations would most likely be taking place in sports halls and other large venues across the country.

“We have to remember that a lot of the people we will be seeing will be mature and many may not have left the house for months. It will be difficult for a lot of them, but some might just want to have a good chat.

“Some people will walk in and be fine, but others will be nervous, we will be teaching how to be confident when dealing with people in all circumstances.”

She added: “ All our volunteers are brilliant, we will be recruiting 20,000 more on top of the 10,000 we already have, and they will be trained to a really high standard.

“It won’t be an instant fix, it’s going to take a few months to train everyone. But we will make sure we have people ready to help once the vaccine is ready and available.

The session was at The St. John Ambulance headquarters at Wharf St, Wolverhampton

The volunteers also include A&E nurse George Keal, of Salisbury, who started volunteering with St John aged 16.

George, 26, has been part of 999 ambulance crews during the pandemic to take the burden off the NHS.

He now trains others to administer the vaccine.

George said: “I understand people might be nervous because they think those giving the vaccine might not have the experience but there’s very intensive training involved.

“We could teach people how to do an injection in an hour but we are not doing that. They will be properly trained online and have a full day’s training face-to-face.

“I’m so proud to be a small part of bringing this pandemic to an end.”

The jab will be rolled in the coming weeks and months

British airways flight attendant Emma Oliver, 34, volunteered after being furloughed from her job in March.

She has since helped A&E doctors in Covid-hit hospitals and will now be helping give the vaccine.

Emma, of Horsham, Sussex, said: “British Airways gives us a quite strict and intense course in aviation medicine so when I was furloughed I wanted to put that to use elsewhere.

“I’ve learned so much more about nursing and infection control while working in the hospital and I’m very proud to be working with St John on the vaccine roll out.

“I know there are vaccines and Covid deniers out there and everyone’s entitled to their own opinion, but I think some of it comes from fear. It’s been a scary time.

“People have been locked down in their house and feel anxious but I can reassure them the vaccine is safe and those administering are highly skilled volunteers.”

For Emma, volunteering runs in the family. Her mum Bev and great-grandad Walter ‘worked’ for St John in Manchester.

Training takes around 20 hours


We were shown how quick and easy it is to administer the vaccine, with the right training.

The vaccine will come with a pre-prepared vial and needle which has been prepared professionally.

After using a cleaning swab on the arm, you then measure 2-3 inches down from the shoulder and gently inject it into the deltoid muscle.

The person receiving it will then head to a waiting area to spend around 15 minutes with other St John Ambulance volunteers to make sure everything is ok.

When the vaccines are fully available next year they should be able to administer tens of thousands each day.

It’s a simple process, just like millions of other jabs which are given by medics across the world each week – but this one will bring hope to everyone whose life has been turned upside down by the pandemic.

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