Rollout of the COVID vaccination across the UK has begun. We hear from dentists and dental professionals about their experiences during the vaccination programme and how they’re helping.
We also speak to dentists about why they chose to get the vaccine and whether they would recommend it to their colleagues.
I volunteered to become a vaccinator for the COVID vaccine role out in November 2020. I wanted to help make a difference.
My background is that I had practised as a dentist for 37 years up to March when I stepped back from clinical dentistry. Prior to this and before COVID I had not planned to fully retire. But was active in the process of going very part time.
Even before that I had already been applying for jobs in other areas of healthcare. During the first lockdown I deployed as a relief pharmacy delivery driver from April to December 2020.
I was not very optimistic about the call up to vaccination by applying through a central site.
Two attempts to work as a contact tracer had come to nothing thanks to a less than satisfactory recruitment process. My pessimism about the COVID vaccine volunteering process proved correct again. I heard nothing!
Healthcare support worker
Undeterred I looked for local jobs to work in my area as a vaccinator.
I found a job to be a healthcare support worker (HCSW) with the vaccination program. I applied and was quickly interviewed.
The role turned out to be a general duties job. But when the interviewers found out that I was a dentist with an active GDC registration, they put me forward as a vaccine prescriber/vaccinator.
Unfortunately, that was four days before Christmas and I heard no more.
I have now been accepted, subject to checks, to be a HCSW. I am told this should be upgraded to become a prescriber/vaccinator.
There is a lot of paperwork to complete by the employer health care trust. A DBS check, references, occupational health clearance, online learning modules – and that is just to become a HCSW.
I have been sent e-learning modules in anticipation of becomimg a prescriber/vaccinator.
Some of the modules like manual handling and food safety are obviously not relevant to becoming a vaccinator. But safe guarding and infection control obviously are appropriate.
Online learning is delivered across both the ESR and e-learning for healthcare (e-LfH) web apps.
Immunisation training and competency assessment include COVID-19 core knowledge and vaccine-specific training with anaphylaxis training and competency assessment, basic life support mandatory training, legal mechanisms for administering prescription only medicine (POM) vaccines by IM injection and competency assessment on practical elements of vaccine admin and vaccine storage.
I’m a fair way through the online training and am now waiting to be confirmed by my local trust as a HCSW. And then hopefully promoted up to prescriber/vaccinator.
COVID vaccination programme
I’m keen to get going now and I hope the admin does not slow things up too much longer! It is rather frustrating that as a GDC registrant and NHS performer it isn’t possible to be fast tracked into the vaccination programme.
I hope that can happen in the future for other colleagues who want involvement. I appreciate it requires checks and due diligence. But we are in the middle of a pandemic and at a crisis point with the COVID-19 infection rate.
The NHS is an amazing institution and all those who work in it are awesome!
Perhaps a little more joined up thinking though and understanding of how versatile and highly-skilled dentists and DCPs are would make it much easier to get me and others hands on and giving the vaccine now.
Vaccination is the word on everyone’s lips today – but it comes heavy with connotation, weighed down by hope.
I know that we are all hoping ‘the V-word’ will be what digs us out of this crisis. But we are so far from making it out of the woods. The task that lies ahead of us is monumental.
I have a very simple belief. As dentists (and hygienists), we need to play our part. I want to see an army of dental professionals offering their time and skills to the national vaccination effort.
This is our population. These are our people: they are patients, team members, and colleagues (both past and future).
Put bluntly: this is our duty.
Time to mobilise
I’ve spoken to the vaccination centres. They are desperate to increase capacity, but are still looking to find ‘sustainable models’ of doing so. There is a great need for vaccinators and no guidance on how to meet that need with any sort of innovation.
When I offered my own time, the response was immediate – and grateful.
As dentists, we are not always the most fondly-looked-upon profession. Nobody really wants dentistry, but once again, the country is crying out for our help. What better way to prove (yet again) to the populace that we care?
We have all suffered under the impact of the virus. The more we give of our time now, the sooner we can return normality to all aspects of our lives.
It doesn’t matter whether the moral imperative or the basic common sense of pulling together sounds more convincing to you. What’s important is that we all step up, and that we do it quickly.
It’s time for the dental profession to mobilise.
Certification is no hardship
We can’t walk in tomorrow and start doling out injections, of course. There are some steps we all need to go through to meet our legal requirements. Even once those are completed we must wait for our own jabs to take effect before we can vaccinate with more confidence.
But the last I checked, there were more than 66 million people in this country. Only a few million have received the vaccine so far. There is no shortage of work to do.
Personally, I believe the vaccination effort needs to run through all hours of the day. If enough of us join then the only thing holding us back will be the doses of the vaccine itself. Giving up a day, or even an afternoon/evening session, is only a small part of our working week.
I do pray that our government has ordered sufficient quantities to make the country safe, but I cannot control that.
What I can control is my own contribution. And if I can help free up our colleagues on the front line of general medical care even a little then I am compelled to act.
I know some of our colleagues believe becoming certified is a big ask. But I have looked into the process and any of us are equal to the task.
The questionnaires take a few hours to complete: they are a far cry from the level of education we have already gone through. Or already committed to doing as a condition of our ongoing registration as dentists.
We are not above this work. Our time is precious – so let’s spend it wisely, and use that time to help the national effort.
It’s something we can all do: and because we can, we must.
Nilesh Parmar and Shaz Memon
Writing for The Independent, Nilesh Parmar and Shaz Memon ask why dentists have been forgotten during the COVID-19 fight.
They point out that the UK’s 40,000 dentists are perfectly placed to help with the COVID vaccine rollout.
‘There has been talk of firefighters or even unqualified volunteers administering the jab. Now dentists, who are medical professionals and are permitted to use the title “doctor”, are finally being invited to sign up to help vaccinate the nation.
‘It’s a welcome announcement, but up until now dentists are largely forgotten and ignored throughout the pandemic.’
Oral health and COVID-19 links
Poor oral care has links with undiagnosed cancers as well as suffering more severely from COVID-19.
In many parts of the world, the health importance of dentistry is implicitly recognised. But many in the profession in the UK feel they’re ‘only a dentist’ in the eyes of many.
‘Having dentists and their qualified medical staff deliver vaccines in their sanitised practices as the rollout scales up could take a significant burden off the rest of the NHS. An NHS that dentists are, after all, an essential part of.
‘Although it is very noble for firefighters, unqualified volunteers, or anyone else to offer their services in the vaccine rollout, we must remember that we have trained, trusted medical professionals embedded in every community. And they want to help.’
I chose to have the vaccine because dentists are on the front line of health care. I feel we should have the vaccine.
We can all play a part to reduce risk and reduce pressure on the NHS.
Many patients are entering hospitals for reasons other than COVID dental infections. I recently heard an example of this from an oral and maxillofacial surgeon colleague. They were asked to see a patient who had been admitted with a dental abscess last week. The patient was obese and has high risk factors for COVID, He developed COVID and sadly passed away.
The number of anti-vaccine patients amazes me. I feel we can help to counsel them as to the potential life-saving benefits of having this vaccine.
About two weeks ago I had the Pfeizer COVID vaccine. My wife’s Nan sadly died of COVID last year.
This virus stopped our profession in its tracks for three months and stopped us caring for our patients. Our children can’t go to school, we can’t see our loved ones and many of us have been left with job and financial uncertainty.
So for me, working on the front line in patients mouths, in London where the new virus variant has run rife, it was a no brainer to get the vaccine.
I would do anything to keep myself, my family and my patients safe.
The only side effect I experienced was a sore arm for three days.
I actually felt privileged to be able to have it so soon. I did lots of research before because I heard lots of gossip on social media and through colleagues. But the numbers say it will save your life, and only 5% of the vaccinated group developed COVID. Out of those that did they showed mild symptoms.
There is not enough research to say the vaccine will stop the spread of the virus. But theoretically they claim this will reduce the spread due to reducing symptoms.
So I’m super happy I’ve had it. Hopefully it can mean a safer future for me, my patients, my family and colleagues. We can get back to normal sooner rather than later.
I would like to thank my practice @whiteandcodental for getting our staff vaccinated so soon! I hope as a profession we can lead the way with making our world safe again.
Get vaccinated, stay safe.
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Are you volunteering to help with the COVID vaccine rollout? Want to send your comment? Simply email [email protected] to have your say.