Special report – the vaccination front line: ‘People were sobbing from relief’
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Special report – the vaccination front line: ‘People were sobbing from relief’

Dr Leora Harverd, whose Temple Fortune surgery featured on Panorama this week, tells Jenni Frazer how she and her team hope to administer 50,000 doses by the end of August

Jenni Frazer is a freelance journalist

Jewish Care resident Eveline Baer getting a jab this week
Jewish Care resident Eveline Baer getting a jab this week

Dr Leora Harverd’s day currently begins any time from 6 am — if she is woken up by her surgery’s practice nurse, telling her a new batch of anti-Covid vaccines has arrived — and continues until vaccinations cease at 4pm, before returning to her other pressing medical work.

Dr Harverd’s Temple Fortune surgery, featured on BBC’s Panorama programme on Monday night, was the first Covid vaccination hub to go live in Barnet. At her instigation, the practice car park has been turned into an outdoor vaccination centre, with around 400 elderly people a day, many of them Jewish, getting the precious dose of vaccine.

“People are beyond desperate to get the vaccine”, Dr Harverd says. “We saw 1,000 people in the first week (the service has been live since the New Year weekend), and most of them, this was their first journey out of their houses in the entire nine or 10 months (since the first lockdown). There were people sobbing from relief — there was a tidal wave of emotion. It was the last thing I expected. But people are so grateful, and we have had so much support and thanks — because people can see what a huge project this has been to take on, on top of our day job”.    

And the random nature of the project — particularly not knowing when vaccines will arrive, or in what kind of quantity — has made this a very ad hoc situation, or, as Dr Harverd said, smiling, to Panorama, “a Blue Peter thing where you make things up on the hoof”.

Dr Leora Harverd

This week Temple Fortune gets its first delivery of the Astra Zeneca vaccine. Up until now the surgery has been using the Pfizer vaccines, which require a complex procedure before use. “You have to take the vials out of the refrigerator and warm them up to room temperature. Then you have to rock them 10 times, add saline, and then re-rock the vials — essentially you have to treat them like new-born babies”.

Add to that an enormous amount of checking and cross-checking — and dealing with elderly people who are required to make available a bared arm through endless levels of necessary winter clothing — and it’s astonishing that Temple Fortune has been able to vaccinate as many as 400 each day.

But the Astra Zeneca vaccines don’t require quite so much preparation, which makes Dr Harverd confident of being able to see even more people. There are 11 doctors in this busy practice, and normal patient service is continuing while the vaccinations take place — so every member of staff is stretched to the limit, either vaccinating, going back and forth to the lab where the vials are initially stored, or doing regular consultations. 

Additionally, regulations require every person who has been vaccinated to be supervised for 15 minutes before they leave for home, and that task is now being carried out by the emergency medical response team for the Jewish community, Hatzola. “It’s really full-on, it’s like a factory,” says Dr Harverd. “We’re not just seeing our patients, we’re seeing the whole of south Barnet, so 50,000 people will end up having vaccines from us by the end of August”.

We saw 1,000 people in the first week and for most of them, this was their first journey out of their houses in the entire nine or 10 months. There were people sobbing from relief — there was a tidal wave of emotion

 

Next week, she reckons, will be the busiest yet, anticipating at least 1400 people through the doors. But even through all the misery of the virus, there is hope, she says: “People are even asking us for the batch number of the vaccine they are getting, so that they can book their flight to Israel!”

Dr Harverd and her colleague, Dr Karen Grossman, are eager to share with other GPs what they have learned, and held a brainstorming meeting on Christmas Day at the Sage old age home in Golders Green.

“We are a really motivated team and I get emails every day from people offering to help, from volunteer vaccinators to marshals — we’re getting soup sent in next week because it’s been so cold in the marquee. It’s been incredible — and the patients are keeping us going”.

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