A DEDICATED volunteer vaccinator has shared his experience of administering Covid jabs as more helpers are sought before the autumn.

St John Ambulance, a health and first aid charity, has announced plans to recruit and train 5,000 vaccinators in the parts of England where they are most needed.

That includes Somerset and other parts of the West Country, where it plans to enlist 250 volunteers.

The recruitment drive began after the Government announced that everyone over 50 will be offered a Covid booster and a flu jab this autumn.

Matthew Holbrook, a 53-year-old chartered IT professional working in the Civil Service, is among Somerset’s existing volunteer vaccinators.

The Timsbury resident has vaccinated hundreds of people at the Church of St Thomas in Wells and at Bath Racecourse since signing up in April.

Before that, he volunteered as a marshal at a Midsomer Norton vaccination centre and helped manage patient flow during the Omicron wave at a GP practice.  

Matthew applied to St John Ambulance after he saw an advert on Facebook in December. The charity offered him a role in January, and he decided to accept.

Somerset County Gazette: A volunteer vaccinator administers a booster dose. Picture: St John AmbulanceA volunteer vaccinator administers a booster dose. Picture: St John Ambulance

Matthew told the County Gazette: “It’s been one of the most fulfilling things I’ve ever done.

“My normal job is sort of a back-office IT job. This is the opposite, now I’m in front of the public and you never know who’s coming around the corner into your booth.

“Lots of lovely people who come through. I quite like the elderly couples who come in and I have a little laugh with them.

“I’ve got a load of jokes up my sleeve to make people laugh and more relaxed. It’s the perfect job, I really love it.”

Matthew initially supported staff at Bath Racecourse before the site stopped taking volunteers from the end of May. He then volunteered in Wells until the end of July.

In that time, he vaccinated two family members of a dentist who helped him after a cycling accident he had at the age of 11.

“Despite it being over 40 years ago, they knew my story because he used to use it as a bike safety message,” he said.

“We were chuffed that we all met, and that would never have happened had I not been vaccinating.”

He added: “I’ve enjoyed both those experiences and want to keep them going.

“I use up a lot of my holiday for it. I’ve moved my summer holiday to September because I thought the vaccinations would be taking off again.

“That may not sound much of a holiday but because I enjoy it so much, I’m happy to use my holiday to do it.”

Matthew expects to see a “steady flow” of people booking vaccinations as the 50+ age band becomes eligible for their boosters.

He will be joined by a new cohort of St John Ambulance volunteers, who will complete short online training courses and in-person sessions before administering their first doses.

Part of the training will see the volunteers inject syringes of water into foam pads worn on their colleagues’ arms to prepare them for the real thing.

“That is very similar to what it’s like injecting someone,” said Matthew, who is also trained to administer flu jabs.

“When I did my first vaccination in Bath, it went in easily – it felt just like the foam pad. You quickly build up your confidence.

“I’ve had some nice comments from the nurses. One day, one of the charge nurses at Bath said, ‘I don’t know how we’d have managed without you this afternoon’, which was really lovely to hear.”

More than 33 million people have received a booster or third dose of a Covid vaccine, including 30,447 in the seven day to August 9.

In total, St John Ambulance volunteer vaccinators have given more than one million hours of their time to supporting the NHS's vaccination programme. 

Craig Harman, the charity's acting chief operating officer, said: “Many of the vaccinators I’ve spoken to over the last year and a half say that giving people their jabs has been one of the best experiences of their life.

“The satisfaction of protecting people and keeping the pandemic at bay is enormous, plus being part of St John opens up a whole range of extra volunteering opportunities where people can help their communities, like sharing lifesaving first aid skills or supporting our brilliant programmes for young people.”

You can find out more about the charity's volunteer vaccinator roles or apply online at www.sja.org.uk/volunteer-vaccinator.