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Nurse Suzanne Bunch administers a booster jab (©AAH/Alan Wright)

Published on 1st January 2022 (Visit to Vaccination Centre made 9th December 2021)

It remains to be seen how COVID will shape our daily lives in future. Will face masks become commonplace in theatres and sporting events? Will vaccine passports be mandatory for overseas travel? Will booster jabs become as routine for children as MMR jabs? Whatever its lasting impact on the social and political landscape, we will surely reflect with pride on the way communities and medical professionals came together in the vaccination programme. 

In Horsham, Bluecoat Sports Centre in Christ’s Hospital has administered over 75,000 vaccinations and is one of the country’s leading centres for the booster roll-out. Other GP-led centres at Roffey Millennium Hall, Glebe Surgery in Storrington, Pulborough Medical Centre and Henfield Medical Centre have also been administering vaccines across the District. AAH visited the Millennium Hall to meet medical staff, immunisers, managers and volunteers…


On Thursday 9 December 2021, Stephen Bland, Vaccination Site Coordinator at the Roffey Vaccination Centre, briefs volunteers and healthcare staff shortly before the doors open to the public. It’s going to be another busy day. The Omicron variant is on the rise and yesterday, Prime Minster Boris Johnson announced new moves to slow its spread by recommending people work from home where possible and making face masks a legal requirement in most outdoor venues, including theatres and cinemas. The government’s booster jab drive will ensure there’s a steady flow of people arriving throughout the day.

Semi-retired from the legal profession, Stephen responded to a recruitment drive by the Alliance for Better Care (ABC) for non-clinical leaders for vaccination centres. After his training, he joined a large vaccination centre in Tonbridge, where his wife worked as the Clinical Lead. When the centre closed, he moved to head up the Roffey centre.  

“There is always something happening here and many issues are IT related,” says Stephen. “Everything depends on us being able to update the NHS records for each patient and that requires the internet. We had additional routers installed but because of the sheer volume of information, there can be problems. We also have to adjust to regular changes. Every day, site managers across the UK are updated on changes to protocol. Yesterday, the meeting was about the reduction in the time period between the second jab and the booster, which has gone down from six to three months. Most of the changes are politically-driven and when the government alters its position, we have to implement new protocols quickly.” 

“Working with NHS staff is a different experience for me and I’m so impressed by them all. I have a greater appreciation for what they do now. People working across the health service have remarkable empathy.”



The vaccination centre requires a Clinical Lead – a medical professional who supervises to ensure it’s run safely. They are available to answer queries from the public, staff and volunteers, and assist people who may feel unwell, before or after vaccination. 

Dr Benjamin Kearl lives in Warnham and usually works as a GP in Horley, although he is currently one of the Clinical Leads at the Roffey centre. Dr Kearl said: “By the time they’ve come this far, most people know about the various vaccines. But some may be taking medication or suffer from allergies and require professional advice or just reassurance. Some have phobias of needles or suffer with anxiety, so we try to make them feel more comfortable.”

“The Omicron variant is still new, so we’re not yet fielding many questions about it. But people do have concerns about the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines used for boosters. Many received the AstraZeneca vaccine initially and are concerned about having two different vaccines. I also ensure all the vaccines are effective. The Pfizer vaccine needs to be diluted before it’s administered,and we must properly record when they are removed from the fridge, as they need to be administered within a set amount of time.”

“There is continuity here, as there’s a good team spirit. When you bring together volunteers, healthcare professionals and trained immunisers, you get a diverse group of people with different skills. They come from a wide range of industries, with several previously working in aviation. We work well together and although it’s hard work, it’s enjoyable and rewarding.”  



On the day of AAH’s visit, there are six people administering jabs, some working half days and others on full day shifts. They deal with a constant queue of people, most of whom have booked their booster online, having already received the first two vaccines. The job of keeping a steady flow is down not only to Stephen and the staff, but also volunteers, including members of Horsham Rotary Club, who  help both in and out of the hall. 

Barbara Blamires is a familiar face at the centre, where she plays a key role in maintaining the flow of people into the vaccination booths. Barbara is one of several members of the Holbrook Surgery Patient Participation Group to volunteer. Having perfected her duties, she has even written out tips and instructions for others in her absence.

“Most vaccinators have a signal to let me know they’re ready. It’s not just a matter of sending in the next person as one heads to the waiting area after their jab. The vaccinator needs to record each vaccine on the system and may need to add notes too, so communication is vital. You need eyes in the back of your head sometimes!” “As well as making sure you have people waiting to go into the next available booth, I need to wash the seat down every time and ensure people sit in the waiting room for 15 minutes after their jab, so they don’t suffer ill effects. It’s not easy, but I’ve perfected the routine!” 



Among the immunising team is Richard Walker, a commercial airline pilot from Horsham. Richard initially worked in an administrative role at Crawley Hospital before responding to a national appeal for vaccinators. After a spell in Crawley, he joined the booster jab team at the Millennium Hall in September.

Richard said: “It’s hard work as you’re seeing about 10 people an hour and I have done over 100 vaccinations in a shift before. One of the first people I vaccinated was 101-years-old and in a wheelchair, so some jabs take longer than others to administer. But certainly with the older age groups, people roll their sleeves up and are keen to get on with it. They are very positive about the boosters, as they see the benefit it brings and want to do their bit to help.”

“I tend not to interact with the public much as a pilot, other than in-flight announcements, so to be involved with something that people are excited about and appreciate has been a very worthwhile experience.” 



Editor’s Note: Many thanks to Stephen Bland and his team for their patience during our visit and also to Roger Cato of the Rotary Club of Horsham for helping set up the visit.