How GPs at three practices came together to vaccinate 1,200 people in one weekend
Gareth Williams, local democracy reporter
A Gwynedd GP has shed light on the ‘herculean effort’ that resulted in 1,200 people receiving their Covid-19 jabs in just two days.
Given just two days to prepare, a team led by six vaccinators across three practices on the Llŷn Peninsula carried out the remarkable feat without wasting a single drop.
Even having to clear snow so that the elderly could continue to arrive and receive their jabs, the actions of the community have drawn praise from the First Minister with one GP admitting that thinking about their achievements left him “quite emotional.”
Based 50 minutes away from the nearest mass vaccine centre in Bangor, the GP surgeries decided to cluster together and offer vaccines to the most vulnerable in their rural community by setting up a temporary centre in Nefyn.
But with the Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board first requiring Welsh Government permission, approval was only given late last Wednesday night to carry out the weekend push.
Dr Eilir Hughes, a GP at Nefyn’s Ty Doctor surgery, worked with Botwnnog’s Rhydbach and Pwllheli’s Treflan practices to deliver doses of the Pfizer vaccine, which was previously only available at special mass vaccination centres due to the ultra-low temperatures it has to be stored at.
Dr Hughes told the Local Democracy Reporting Service: “We wanted to do this and there had been lobbying and efforts to persuade authorities that we would be able to achieve what we’d set out to do, so we had been in ‘stand-by’ mode since the start of the week.
“We didn’t know if or when we would get the eventual go-ahead, but it was all systems go from that point and we were all primed and ready.”
But with the team also facing challenges with the “trickier” Pfizer vaccine, a lack of time meant that admin staff were left with the mammoth task of working through lists of people eligible to receive their first dose and booking time slots to vaccinate over 1,000 of them in just two days.
With Dr Hughes deciding to “personally guard” the supplies until they could start administering on Saturday morning, staff had just two days to receive training on how to prepare and safely administer this “very delicate” vaccine as well as setting out the venue to ensure it was as safe an environment as possible.
“The Pfizer vaccine is very delicate in terms of temperature but also treatment,” said Dr Hughes.
“You can’t shake the bottle or be rough with it in any way or else the genetic material denatures and becomes largely useless.
“You can only administer it on one site were there’s a medical fridge and good security, with enough room to monitor patients for 15 minutes after they’ve received the vaccine. You need the floorspace.”
As well as the three GP surgeries, the task was also a multi-agency one, with Gwynedd Council delivering 150 cones and gritting the roads on Sunday morning after a rare flurry of snow, while police prepared a traffic management plan assisted by a helpful crew of volunteer stewards.
“There are so many people to thank really,” said DR Hughes.
“The overwhelming feeling right now is relief after such a challenging weekend due to the quick turnaround.
“The emotion of seeing so many people relieved to have received the first vaccine makes it all worthwhile.
“As a team, we are so pleased we managed to achieve it and would like to thank all the administrative staff across all the surgeries for working so hard and persevering in contacting everyone to come in.
“Of course the stewards also played a major role under cold and difficult circumstances, voluntarily, and Sergeant Colin Jones and the police were also invaluable in the support they offered.
“It’s truly humbling to see our community come together as one, to protect and deliver for our most vulnerable.”
Hoping that their achievements could show other communities what could be done to ramp up vaccinations, Dr Hughes said: “We have a much better understanding now, knowing that we’ll have to do this again in April to deliver a second vaccine for the same cohort of patients.
“I’m pushing to get more vaccine into the area and are willing to take whatever comes our way.
“Yes, the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine is easier but, if Pfizer is available, we’ve proved we can administer it safely and that people will travel to receive it.
“I hope to look at a similar run in Porthmadog but it all depends on the supply of vaccine that comes our way.
“Mass vaccination centres aren’t suitable for everyone, and we’ve proven that GPs can be more efficient at delivering the vaccine.
“So the hope is that more faith will be given to GP’s to vaccinate their communities as fast and as safely as they can. We look forward to go again!”
In the Senedd on Tuesday, Arfon’s MS paid tribute to the work of the Llŷn vaccinators after taking her 92-year-old mother for her jab.
Sian Gwenllian said: “As a result of the excellent efforts of local medical leaders and despite a whole host of bureaucratic barriers and snow, 1,200 people were vaccinated.
“GPs and health workers are doing heroic work in all parts of Wales, and our debt to them is very great.”
Her remarks led to more praise from the First Minister, Mark Drakeford, who described the weekend push as “demonstrating the spirit and the effort that people are making”.
Dwyfor Meirionnydd MP Liz Saville Roberts, who lives in nearby Morfa Nefyn, said: “I would like to express my heartfelt thanks to everyone at Nefyn’s Tŷ Doctor surgery for their tireless work in providing 1,200 Pfizer BioNTech vaccinations to priority patients from three Pen Llŷn surgeries last weekend.
“Between clinical and surgery staff, officers from North Wales Police and an army of local volunteers, the whole process was carried out with professionalism, with everyone in high spirits.
“In spite of the bad weather, it was a joyous moment seeing relief on the faces of so many who have been housebound for the best part of a year.
“This vaccine, and the tremendous efforts of front line health staff, gives us hope of better times ahead.”