The hours are long, but the work is fulfilling.
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As Malaysia ramps up its vaccine drive to meet a fully vaccinated adult population by October, mega-vaccination centres (PPV)and the like are also working overtime to ensure that target is met one prick at a time.
At the helm of things are the volunteer vaccinators who work tirelessly to ensure you get a tiny drop of liquid gold to safeguard you from Covid-19.
TRP speaks to a vaccinator, who wishes to remain anonymous, on what it’s like to be a volunteer and yes, it’s all you can imagine and more.
Emery (not her real name) is a dentist working in Johor Bahru but due to the long-standing, and rather unpredictable Movement Control Order (MCO), moved back to the Klang Valley to accompany her parents to their vaccination appointments.
At the time of her move back home, Emery realised there was a need for more medical professionals to help and to be a vaccinator, one must be either a doctor, dentist, staff nurse or medical assistant.
The day starts at 6 am and dinner is sometimes at 10 pm
Emery works three to five days a week and does the full 12-hour shift at various PPV centres across Klang Valley.
I get up at 6 am, grab a bit of breakfast, change into my scrubs, get into my PPE, set up my vaccination station (arrange syringes, needles, and plasters), take the vaccines out of the main chiller, placed into iceboxes and we are good to go.
When work ends, Emery heads home and has a simple dinner consisting of three soft boiled eggs and toast. On some heavier days she says, she doesn’t eat dinner till after 10 pm.
After a long day, Emery likes to wind down watching her friends play computer games on discord or twitch.
Volunteering at different PPVs gives Emery a chance to experience the different centre setups.
Some she says are “nice, carpeted halls with chilly air conditioning” but other times it could be an indoor stadium or a school temporarily converted to be a vaccine centre with only fans to circulate the air.
If you’re wondering, yes food is provided for the volunteers but there isn’t much time to eat so instead they take turns with only 15 minutes before they continue for the day.
Repetitive, tiring, but also fulfilling
As imagined, being a vaccinator is repetitive and tiring but for Emery, she likes to meet new people and being able to comfort people’s fears and make them realise that it isn’t so painful or scary, is what keeps her going.
She tells us that every new person she meets and vaccinates gives Malaysia a better chance of fighting the virus.
Fatigue is real
After seeing hundreds of patients, you’re bound to feel exhausted which sometimes leaves room for error.
I believe all healthcare workers are taught the principle “First, do no harm” when treating patients, and to always have the patients’ best interests at heart. Fatigue and accidents may happen especially if one works long hours non-stop every day, thus these incidents serve as a reminder to take breaks and strive for consistency.
Yes to selfies
Some vaccinators are particular about having photos and videos taken at the centre but for Emery, she always asks her patients to take pictures or videos of the process, including the vials and filled syringes. She believes that taking photos and uploading them on social media promotes vaccinations and hastens the vaccine uptake among the public.
Tales from the PPV
Emery tells us that one of the funniest things people commonly ask her is if they can take a shower after the vaccine. The answer is YES. “You must” she adds.
Another patient asked Emery one time to put more “numbing gel” on his arm. What he was referring to were the cold alcohol swabs they use to sterilise the skin before inserting the needle. For the record, they do not contain any numbing agents.
On the other hand, Emery experienced an incident when an individual with a pink wristlet accompanied a relative to come for a vaccination. He hid the band from RELA officers but was eventually caught while in the queue.
Because of his disregard, there was a long day of backlogs due to closing off and sanitising the area.
Challenges and favourite part of the job
For Emery, taking the syringe cap off and getting the bubbles out of the syringe is the most challenging part.
Aside from the technical part of it, Emery tells us of a time she had a patient who didn’t want the vaccine but showed up unwillingly.
I spent a good 30 minutes convincing her and at last, she took the vaccine. I’m comfortable dealing with difficult patients, but if everyone were to be like this, it would increase the queue time outside.
Her favourite part of the job? When she’s told her injection doesn’t hurt at all because that means she did an excellent job in an otherwise prickly situation.
Former advertising mad woman - turned mother to an amazing little girl born 3 months early - and now a returned writer. Also a textbook ambivert with no clue about today's pop music but a walking encyclopedia of music from the 80s and 90s.