You are using an older browser version. Please use a supported version for the best MSN experience.

'I've given over 10,000 people the Covid-19 vaccine in the last year - sometimes I work so fast I jab 1 person every minute'

MyLondon logo MyLondon 25/01/2022 Emma Magnus

It was January 2021 and Robin Saphra was in an empty office in Canary Wharf, wearing a blue plastic PPE gown, two face masks and a face shield. In his hand, he held a needle.

The surrounding buildings - and other floors of the building he was in - were also empty, giving the area a strange, ghostly quality.

This room, however, was crowded, full of the chatter of voices - young voices, older voices, voices from all walks of life.

READ MORE: ‘This is not yet over’: health chief says Londoners need to get boosted to build an 'immunity wall'

Robin notes that there a huge amount of fear persists around vaccination: © Lara Muth Robin notes that there a huge amount of fear persists around vaccination:

Robin had been allocated a partner, who was holding a foam arm up against their own. Slowly, very slowly, he navigated the needle at a 45 degree angle into what, on a human arm, would be the deltoid muscle.

"You're kind of looking through this haze to try and wield a needle at someone. It was quite interesting," says Robin.

Usually a consultant, negotiator and lawyer, Robin was doing an all-day training course to become a volunteer vaccinator.

It was organised by St John's Ambulance, who have trained around 30,000 volunteers to date at over 650 locations around the country.

He'd signed up in December, just a few days before Christmas, after seeing a recruitment advert online.

"It just landed at the perfect moment. Here we were, in the depths of this pandemic, and I was doing a lot of soul-searching as to what I could do that would be helpful to other people, and people who are less fortunate than I am," he says.

"That was the main reason that people signed up [as vaccinators]. That feeling - I guess it's powerlessness, really - of not being able to impact things."

Robin and his fellow vaccinators passed the training, and, an ID badge and a DBS check later, he was ready to start jabbing.

Over the last year, Robin has worked in vaccination centres throughout London © Lara Muth Over the last year, Robin has worked in vaccination centres throughout London

Wanting to maximise his contribution and gain as much experience as possible, Robin signed up to work at vaccination centres "everywhere, from northwest London, to Kent, and everywhere in between."

Being self-employed, Robin initially committed to three days a week, working shifts in local pharmacies in Lewisham, Hampstead, Tower Hamlets, as well as other gigs at the Excel Centre, the Royal Free Hospital, a church hall in Essex, a mobile vaccination unit.

"I've never appreciated how diverse London is demographically. You know it and you feel it, but you don't realise it. When you go to an area where it's predominantly local people coming in, the differences are stark," says Robin.

He compares vaccinating in affluent Hampstead, for example, to his local GP Centre on Cable Street, Tower Hamlets, where he now vaccinates one day a week.

In Hampstead, he detected a greater trust in authority figures, like the government and doctors, with people generally coming in earlier to be vaccinated.

At his local GP surgery in Tower Hamlets, by contrast, Robin says he is still administering first doses of the vaccine to people in their 70s and 80s.

When he asks why they hadn't come in earlier, he says the answer is sometimes practical - not being able to leave the house, or struggling to find childcare - but often, as Robin puts it, "something that indicates a degree of exclusion", such as being unable to book an appointment, or being afraid.

Robin is right about the disparity. In Hampstead, 74.2 per cent of residents have had their first dose, with 54.3 per cent having all three doses. In Shadwell North, where the GP is located, these figures are 68.1 per cent for the first dose, and 35 per cent for all three, according to government figures.

Robin (second left) and the team at the mobile vaccination unit © Robin Saphra Robin (second left) and the team at the mobile vaccination unit

Yet despite contrasting attitudes to vaccination across the capital, in Robin's experience, fear is present everywhere.

"Everywhere, regardless of class, race, demographics, you find people who are terrified," says Robin. "There's a huge amount of background fear - of needles, of what's in the vaccine...I suspect this goes right through the medical profession."

Robin mentions a man who visited the mobile vaccination unit with his partner, clearly frightened of needles. Robin spent 45 minutes reassuring him, but as soon as he picked up the needle to vaccinate, the man jumped up and ran down the street. (He was back within the hour, mind, instructing Robin to jab him quickly and be done with it).

Despite almost four million people in London having received all three doses of the vaccine, Robin says that anxiety persists - although he notes that women tend to be better at vocalising their nerves than men.

As well as those who fear the vaccine, Robin has also encountered its opponents. "The anti-vaxxers, sometimes they don't say, but very often they let me know that they're against this," he explains.

Anti-vaxxers, he says, will often come in for functional reasons - holidays, say, or a vaccine passport.

"We were very clearly trained that you don't debate with people...it's very difficult to get into a conversation with people about how vaccines are not just for them, but for the protection of other people as well."

© Lara Muth

In the last year, Robin says that he has completed 350 hours of volunteering, vaccinating an average of 30 people per hour.

Overall, he estimates that he has vaccinated around 10,500 people since February 2021, from teenagers to his oldest vaccinee, who was 103.

Robin prefers it when it's busy. On New Year' Eve, for example, the GP saw an influx of 300 people over the course of three hours.

As the only vaccinator present, Robin estimates that he jabbed 200 people in that time, at a rate of one per minute.

"And that's the whole process, right? It's not just the jabbing, it's actually going out into the queue, getting someone, bringing them in, signing and putting the date on their form, data protection checking, filling in their vaccine card."

Robin has also vaccinated his own family members - and even recruited his daughter, Tamar, to form a vaccinating double act with him. So far, they've worked at the Royal Free together, she as the steward, entering the vaccinee's data, and he administering the shot.

"It becomes a little bit competitive as a team, because you're trying to see who can go faster than the other," says Robin.

He adds, with a touch of pride: "We were really efficient. There's about a dozen vaccinator teams and I felt that we were the duo who were going the fastest."

On January 11, it marked a year since St John's Ambulance started the vaccination rollout. NHS chief executive Amanda Pritchard said in response: “I want to give my personal thanks to all those who have given up their time to help us beat record after record – making the NHS Covid-19 vaccination programme the biggest and most successful in health service history.

“I’m sure the nation will join me in paying tribute to these amazing volunteers, whose efforts will undoubtedly help to save many more lives.”

10,500 vaccine doses later, does Robin feel that he's been able to contribute to the pandemic effort in the way that he was hoping?

"Totally," says Robin, adding that engaging with his local community has made him feel a greater part of it.

"I don't think I could have chosen a better thing to do - it's made it one of the most memorable years of my life. I'll never forget it."

In his volunteering, and speaking to him today, Robin is keen to reassure others about the vaccination process, and to encourage people to get their jab.

"The benefits, both for yourself and others, hugely outweigh any actual or perceived risk. To put that simply: there is no microchip."

To find out more about vaccinating, visit St John's Ambulance's website.

Do you have a story you think we should be covering? If so, please email emma.magnus@reachplc.com.

Want more from MyLondon? Sign up for our daily newsletters for all the latest and greatest from across London here.

AdChoices
AdChoices

More from MyLondon

image beaconimage beaconimage beacon