RETIRED staff nurse Andrea Howells is taking a break from vaccinating people in their 70s at Bay Field Hospital, on the outskirts of Swansea,
She has been based at the mass vaccination centre since before Christmas – one of the numerous immunisers at the sharp end of an endeavour which has challenged scientists and logistics experts to create a safe and effective coronavirus vaccine from scratch and deliver it at scale.
The centre, featuring eight “pods” with 12 suitably spread-out chairs, delivers an average of 1,008 jabs per day.
A replica of the carefully-designed area has been prepared behind a set of closed doors.
It means the centre can double its capacity when called upon to do so.
At present only the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, which must be stored at around -70C, is being administered at Bay Field Hospital.
Capacity will increase further when the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, which can be stored in a fridge, is used.
Mrs Howells said of her work: “It feels like you are contributing in some way. It makes you feel valued again.”
It also takes concentration – mixing the vaccine is a step-by-step process which includes rocking each vial, adding 1.8 millilitres of saline solution, rocking it again, and withdrawing 0.3 millilitres of the mixed vaccine into a syringe.
“In some ways, it’s easier than (hospital) ward work, although you’re still on your feet,” said Mrs Howells. “From a concentration point of view, you’ve got to be so careful mixing it up.”
Colleagues check the preparation work of the vaccinators, and sanitising happens regularly.
Mrs Howells was already a trained immuniser – and her knowledge of sign language has also proved a useful skill.
People from the Swansea Bay University Health Board area are also being vaccinated at Margam Orangery and Canolfan Gorseinon, although the Oxford vaccine is being used at the two smaller venues.
Among those in line for her jab was Hilary Jones, 72, of Bishopston.
She said she hasn’t been anywhere since last March, except the village Co-op store and Pwlldu beach.
“Coming along Mumbles Road today was quite an adventure,” she said.
“I think it’s wonderful. The whole operation is really amazing. I never thought it could be done on such a large scale.”
Les Brunton, of Clydach, described the vaccine as “light at the end of the tunnel”.
“I’ve done vital shopping and anything medical, but other than that I’ve stayed at home,” said the 72-year-old.
When restrictions ease at some point he said he and his wife were looking forward to using their caravan near Tenby once again.
“We are not thinking about going abroad this year,” he said.
The buoyant mood seemed all-pervasive.
“I’m delighted to be here,” said Geraldine Edwards, also 72.
“I think they are doing a marvellous job. They’ve got plenty of feet on the ground, and everybody is paying attention. I can’t wait for my second vaccine.”
Braving near-Arctic temperatures in shorts was John Wright, of Fforestfach, whose wife received her first jab three weeks ago.
“It’s my turn now,” he said. “It’s great – a massive boost. This is the main way to get things right again.”
The health board’s head of operations at the site, Louise Platt, said: “It’s such a feel-good job. The girls have been inundated with chocolates, cards and letters.
“Patients are incredibly grateful – they feel it’s a life-saver.”
Vaccinations take place from 8.30 am to 7.30 pm, seven days a week.
There are 22 vaccinators per shift and two clinical supervisors.
The flow in and out of the building seems well-ordered and precise.
Everyone is asked to use hand sanitiser, and everyone is logged into a computer to keep a running check on “did not attend” numbers.
Miss Platt said there was a reserve list – unused Pfizer vaccine which has been prepared has to be used in a matter of hours, or be discarded.
She said the first four priority vaccination groups in Swansea and Neath Port Talbot will receive their first jab by the middle of February, meeting the nationwide target.
“We’re going to start second Pfizer doses here next week,” she said.
“It’s a very slick process. There is a phenomenal team ethos.”
Helping out are around six members of the military, headed by Flying Officer Dominic Compton-Davies.
They contribute in all but clinical aspects of the operation, and their uniformed presence seems to have a calming effect.
“You get people of this age group chatting to us and telling us about their military experience,” said Flying Officer Compton-Davies. “Some have brought in photos from back in their day. I think it relaxes them a bit.”
More than 600,000 people in Wales have now had their first dose of the vaccine.
Leaving the centre, an elderly man’s flat cap flies off in the wind, while a woman steadfastly pushes her walking aid in front of her.
I suspect they are feeling pretty upbeat.
Light at the end of the tunnel, as Mr Brunton said.