Our intrepid pensioner compares her Christmas shopping experience with her recent visit… to a vaccination centre!
Dear Mr Simms
You may remember that I wrote to you just around Christmas last year.
I am a customer at your store in Chapple Heath.
I was not impressed with the social distancing measures that were in place at your supermarket or how they were being enforced. At the time I visited your shop I found the experience quite scary. And since then, I have been shopping locally or online whenever I can, to avoid going into crowded areas.
However, I thought I would write to you about some recent experiences in the hope that you would be able to use the information to improve how you deal with large numbers of people coming to your superstore. And who knows, with Mr Johnson set to reopen all shops by the 12th April, perhaps this will be of use to other store managers too…
My husband and I have recently received the Astra Zeneca vaccination. My husband, Henry, is older than me as I think I may have mentioned before. He is 70yrs old.
Henry’s Surgery contacted him by letter. They asked him to attend his usual clinic on a specific date and at a specific time, so that they could vaccinate him. At that time it had been snowing, but we ventured out in the car as we have been very much looking forward to receiving the vaccine as a start to getting our lives back.
We have postponed travel arrangements until we have both been vaccinated and as a result have not seen one of our sons for over 12 months and are missing our grandchildren terribly – one of my sons lives in Holland and the other in Cyprus. So, you see, travel is quite important for keeping family relations going – thank goodness for FaceTime… when it works. Every time Henry answers the phone, he puts it to his ear, which must be off putting for my son placing a video call to him!
Anyway, I received a letter last week inviting me to go on a website to arrange to have my vaccination. I am not very good with technology, so I got Henry on the case. He went on the Government website and tried to make an appointment.
We liked the fact that we had received an official letter through the post that sent us to the official website, because you hear stories about scams being sent by fraudsters to people through the mail. If we had just been asked to call an unknown phone number, we would have been a bit concerned. However, we “google searched” for the site and it looked “official.” So, we felt confident to use it to book.
We actually live in Norwich. However, there were no appointments available in Norwich. There were slots available, but only in Colchester or Brentwood, which is about 80 miles away. So, we did not take either. We decided to persevere… and I got Henry to keep trying!
Over and over again Henry went on to the site, and typed in my details to try and get an appointment near our home. For three days he tried. Then finally around midnight on Sunday he found a slot in a nearby town, just 20 minutes’ drive away, for the next day. So, we took it.
Driving to the vaccination centre I was quite worried, as I previously explained. My appointment was for 11.25am. We arrived ten minutes early. The car park was very, very busy. So, Henry double parked to drop me off and stayed in the car so he could move it if the person he was blocking in came back to their car, which in the event was what happened, and he then took their space.
There was very clear signage about maintaining social distancing. There was also very clear signage of which way to go to get to the vaccination centre. I followed the signs and could see quite a lot of people in a queue. As I went to join, I was greeted by a very nice lady who asked me what time my appointment was. I explained that it was 11.25. Even though we were only 10 minutes early, because there were quite a lot of people queuing, the lady I asked that I return to the car and wait for ten minutes before re-joining the queue. I did not mind doing this, as it obviously kept the length of the queues, and the number of people queuing, down. I went back to the car. Henry and I chatted for 10 minutes. Then off I set again.
This time I was greeted by a different person. A very nice man asked me what time my appointment was. I explained, and he invited me to join the queue. We shuffled along quite quickly until getting to the door of the vaccination centre. There I was greeted by a very pleasant lady who asked me for some details, including questions about if I had currently got any of the Covid symptoms or was I living with someone who had been diagnosed with Covid. I confirmed that I had not, and she let me in asking me to sanitise my hands using the dispenser provided and reminding me of the importance of maintaining social distancing. They said this to everyone.
Then I joined another queue, which was manned by another person. They took my name, checked me off a list and then I was asked to sit in one of a line of chairs. I could see that I was getting closer to the medical staff and the “scene of the action,” so to speak. People around me were being asked individually to get up and go to a cubicle. I could see that as each person got up, a cleaner came along and sanitised each chair. “That’s good,” I thought.
All the chairs were socially distanced and, because of the orderly way people were being allowed to access the building, there was no overcrowding. It was perfectly easy to socially distance. That plus the cleanliness of the centre meant that I felt very safe and comfortable with the environment, even though I did not know it. What’s more everyone was wearing a face mask. If you did not have a mask, then you were not permitted to enter. And this rule was being enforced on the door. I think they may have had spare masks to give anyone that forgot their own. The centre was busy, but calm.
I was told to leave my seat and go into a cubicle. There they took my name and checked the details against a computer record. I was asked some more health questions. Whilst there was some repetition, I did feel that they were just being thorough and trying to make sure that everything was in order before they stuck a needle in anyone’s arm! Again, I was asked to move to a new queue, but this was now quite short. And I only had to wait six minutes until being asked to see the nurse.
The lady who was going to give me my jab was an army nurse. She was single handedly doing all of the vaccinations for the entire vaccination centre! I understand that there was one other nurse doing the same thing, but that she was otherwise engaged at the time I was there. Also in the cubicle was another person behind a computer who seemed to be updating my records and a third person who just seemed to be supervising. Although what mischief they thought I would get up to, at my age, heaven only knows! I rolled up my sleeve…
The jab went into my arm. I hardly felt a thing. Then I was told that I could move through to the next area. Some people were waiting to see if they had any reaction to the jab. However, I told the person in charge that I was being driven home by my husband and so, on that basis, I was free to go home immediately. I noted that I had arrived at the centre at 11.25 and by midday I was back in the car ready to go.
I had a headache a couple of hours after I left, and my arm has been a little sore. But nothing major. I also have the date for my second jab. One of the benefits of booking online is that you are given the date for your second jab at the same time. Mine is in May. Henry, on the other hand, has to wait for his surgery to contact him again. So, we do not know when he will get his second jab.
I suppose the key points for me are that, even though someone stuck a needle in my arm, I actually feel that I had a pleasant experience! That started with the original postal invitation for us to go online and book. The two stages together made us feel that the letter was less likely to be a scam of some kind.
When I went for my appointment, I was apprehensive at the idea of potentially mixing with lots of strangers. I arrived just 10 minutes early and even so was asked to go back to my car. But I did not mind. Actually, it was reassuring, because I could see what the organisers were trying to achieve in terms of a safe environment.
I had to queue, but I did not mind that either because the queues were well managed and broke down one big undertaking into bite size pieces. At each stage there was either an additional check or bit of the puzzle completed, and I could see I was getting closer to the finishing line.
There was only one nurse actually doing the vaccinations, but that was fine. I was not in a huff about “why did they not have dozens of people doing the vaccinations to speed things up?” Because each stage was undertaken safely and efficiently, and I was not getting stressed by the surroundings. The fact that it took a little longer than it perhaps could have done was irrelevant, because at the end of the day you could see people were doing their best to make the experience the safest possible and that those measures were working. So, any negatives were vastly outweighed by the positives.
I think if you compare that with the reality of shopping in a supermarket the differences are stark. The half-hearted implementation of rules means that you have all of the inconvenience with none of the benefits.
So that really is my point. If you do these things properly, I believe people will on the whole be patient and work with you. But do them badly and everyone just gets upset and frustrated. Not to mention that with this disease, half measures seem to almost be worse than doing nothing at all.
Beryl Smith (Mrs)
Note: The characters in this story are still fictitious!