Secret life

“I remember one person skipping into the cubicle”

Optometrist Dr Greg Hammond tells OT  about his experience as a COVID-19 vaccinator


When the opportunity to become a vaccinator came up, I was entering the last few months of my PhD so I was beginning to think about looking for a job. It was at that time that Cardiff and Vale Health Board said that they wanted optometrists, dentists and others to help out with the vaccination programme. I thought it would be a chance to get involved and learn something new.

There was some e-learning, an online webinar and then there was at least one practical training session. You went to the vaccination centre and sat in with people who would tell you how to use the computer system, the questions to ask people coming in, and the process of giving vaccines. There were no dummy arms. The first time you were given a needle, it went straight into a real person.

It was a bit scary. I thought ‘I’ve never done this before. Am I going to hurt them?’, ’How much force do I need to use?’ It is very strange that first time, but you very quickly get a feel for it and you realise that the needles are made for this purpose.

I worked at Bayside Vaccination Centre in Cardiff full-time between April and September. In a day it is difficult to say how many people you would vaccinate. Generally we would be so busy that we couldn’t keep a tally. You vaccinate one person, you clean everything and then you bring someone else in. On a busy day you might vaccinate between 50 and 100 people.

The youngest person I vaccinated was 16 and the oldest was in their 80s. Seeing the range of emotions and the gratitude was amazing –we saw many elderly people who were terrified just to leave their home. But when they left the vaccination centre they felt like they could be more confident. For young people, they didn’t have to worry about putting their family at risk. I remember one person skipping into the cubicle because they were so excited to have their vaccine.

It is a really great feeling to think that in 20 years’ time when someone asks me ‘What did you do during the pandemic?’ I can say ‘Well, actually, I helped end it

You had to be delicate about how you dealt with vaccine misconceptions. Some people very strongly believe some of these things. I would say ‘Oh OK, I can understand why you would think that, however…’ and go into detail about how the vaccine works.

I remember just before the lockdown came in, going for a walk with my partner and saying to him ‘I wonder if this is our ‘Your country needs you’ moment’? I wondered if all healthcare professionals would be drafted in and I would be asked to help in the hospital.

That didn’t happen on the scale that we thought it might, but I knew that I wanted to help when I got the opportunity. My family and friends were so proud when I told them I was becoming a vaccinator. It is a really great feeling to think that in 20 years’ time when someone asks me ‘What did you do during the pandemic?’ I can say ‘Well, actually, I helped end it’.

As told to Selina Powell.