Reshaping the COVID vaccine journey for dentists

getting the COVID vaccineWith the COVID vaccine rolling out across the UK, Naresh Patel describes how he is streamlining the training process for dentists in Nottingham.

Like many of us, Anshu (my wife) and I soon realised that the only true way out of the COVID pandemic was having immunity.

From the first lockdown, I had been hard at work meeting with NHSE on a weekly basis to help plan local dental services, SOPs and UDCs.

Our LDC took the lead and I undertook a literature review. All before convincing my neighbouring LDC colleagues to take the leap and procure air filtration units to protect the dental staff and patients at our UDCs.

Anshu worked hard with the BOS and DoH colleagues planning Return to Work Guidelines. As well as dissipating information to respective members.

By mid May I had become a certified fit tester and embarked on fit testing our UDC colleagues. Later my NHSE colleagues awarded me an honorary contract to allow for regional fit testing of dental colleagues.

But we always knew this was a short-term fix until we either developed natural immunity or were vaccinated.

COVID vaccine

On the 9 November the BBC published an article about the first milestone for the COVID vaccine offering 90% protection. This was our chance to make a difference.

As dentists we give difficult injections. Anshu and I have both been fortunate to have worked in a practice and hospital environment.

‘Working at pace’ is a phrase our NHSE colleagues have adopted over this COVID pandemic. This phrase is one we hear quite lot of from our NHS, DoH and government colleagues.

Working at pace is something all dentists learn to do from qualification. We are comfortable dealing with patients, maintaining cross infection standards and administering injections. We are perfect for this effort. This effort to protect our nation, our cities, our neighbour and our loved ones.

From early November, I began contacting colleagues in hospital services, NHSE and commissioners to see how dentists could help with the COVID fight.

There were no real ways to get a foot in the door. In front us stood a herculean door of requirements and application forms. Forms that were foreign and insurmountable to most of our dental colleagues.

Streamlining training for dentists

For Nottinghamshire our breakthrough came when I discovered that one of the NHSE COVID leads was actually the one of the lead dental commissioners who had been seconded to lead the COVID vaccine program.

After making contact and following numerous emails that led to dead ends, on New Year’s eve I discovered a wonderful lady, Tracy Madge. She was the COVID vaccine lead co-ordinator for Nottinghamshire.

I felt finally there was someone who understood the passion of our profession to help. She has the vision to see the potential skills we could offer.

Tracy helped to streamline the training requirements for local dentists to distil only the essentials needed. Much of the training we require is undertaken within the governance of a dental practice.

So we have to provide only specific anaphylaxis, immunisation, vaccination management and delivery training.

This reduced the amount of bureaucratic requirements significantly, which is what most dentists are struggling to complete.

Completion of training leads to the award of an honorary contract allowing crown indemnity to cover you whilst practising in this role.

I met with Tracy at the opening day of a local COVID vaccine centre. I watched as the first patient was inoculated and shared in the claps and cheers of hope. Maybe finally this could bring the virus, that has held us all to ransom since 2020, to its knees.

Making a difference

Anshu and I were the first to undertake the streamlined online training. It took a little less than a week of evenings, mainly undertaken whilst putting our children to bed.

During the first week of 2021 I undertook a social media campaign to recruit like-minded colleagues. I was fortunate that in my position as Nottinghamshire LDC secretary I have avenues to contact local dental colleagues.

By the end of the first week of January, myself and Anshu were joined by a handful of Nottinghamshire dental colleagues.

We organised hands on training with a flurry of emails.

The training should have been an hour at a COVID vaccine site on a Friday. After completing training most of us stayed and proceeded to work late into the night helping vaccinate our elderly and most at risk population.

After a late finish on Friday, filled with a feeling of making a difference, I returned all day Saturday and then all day Sunday where I had the pleasure of working alongside Jonathan Van Tam, the deputy chief medical officer.

Shortage of qualified volunteers

I felt we had a shared purpose with my volunteer group of dental colleagues. But also with our new found friends and a sense of collegiality with doctors, nurses, retired staff that had returned, pharmacist, HCAs, TUI airline crew (most recently featured in a Sunday Times article) and social workers.

What many people don’t appreciate is that each COVID vaccine centre requires people to vaccinate. But also, in the case of the Pfizer vaccine, to draw up and reconstitute the drug.

Only registered healthcare professionals can do this. So whilst many people in the general population can receive training to vaccinate, in some areas there is a shortage of people qualified to reconstitute the actual COVID vaccine.

And this is a particular field in which registered dentists can help.

This fight needs you

I have shared my experiences with my wider dental colleagues via our social media sites. And I therefore encourage them to undertake a similar connection with their vaccination leads.

This is not a fight for a few passionate individuals. This fight needs every one of us to stand up, be proactive, make time and help.

Personally, with the support of my wife and two children we have undertaken almost 40 hours helping at COVID vaccine sites over the past week.

Since our efforts we have been joined by over 50 dental volunteers in Nottinghamshire.

If we all undertook a session a week, we would expedite the task for vaccinating our neighbours, our loved ones, our cities and our nation. We would move closer to removing our masks and also giving loved ones that we haven’t really seen for months a long overdue embrace.

This must be worth giving a few hours of your time for?

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