A PHARMACIST spearheading a battle to get about 80,000 residents vaccinated has told of the remarkable effort happening on the frontline.

Shilpa Patel is leading a team of medical professionals and devoted volunteers aiming to bring the Covid pandemic to an end, one jab at a time.

If you are a patient at a Hove GP surgery, there is a good chance that you will receive the vaccination courtesy of her team.

Ms Patel hopes all patients – young and old – will receive their jab “within six to eight weeks” at the vaccine hub at Portslade Health Centre, or at the Brighton Centre site.

READ MORE: Where and when will I get my coronavirus vaccine?

Ms Patel stepped forward just before New Year to lead the team, which has now vaccinated all of the over-80s and care homes on their books.

She said: “It was on New Year’s Eve when we had our first meeting while the rest of the family was partying away – a Zoom conference where we started to co-ordinate the service.

“We had to get the centre signed off, which took a couple of weeks, while we all worked around the clock getting everything set up for our first delivery.”

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Each bi-weekly delivery to the site in Church Road, Portslade, currently contains 1,000 doses.

The Pfizer vaccine has to be stored at minus 70C for 72 hours.

Once out of the freezer, it has to be diluted within two hours.

Once diluted, the team has six hours to inject it into a patient.

Ms Patel said: “We didn’t know about this so we had to do research – the planning took over our lives.

“We’re running four hubs, so we can vaccinate four people at any one time.

“Each hub has one person making the vaccine, one person administering the vaccine, while another does the paperwork.

“We are now set up to run around the clock, with so many vaccinators trained and a lot of volunteers.

“These include people who have been furloughed from their jobs, for example theatre workers, and have been DBS checked.”

The team is hoping its deliveries will soon be doubled to 2,000 doses.

That way, the hub will be able to double the speed at which the patients are vaccinated.

The Argus: Portslade Health CentrePortslade Health Centre

When asked when people on the list can expect to be vaccinated, Ms Patel said: “The biggest variable is how much delivery we are getting.

“If we get the extra doses, we are hoping that will halve the time everyone will have to wait – that’s huge.

“If the deliveries carry on as they are, it will take us three months to get everyone vaccinated.

“If there are more deliveries, which I believe they are doing at the racecourse, then we might finish the first doses within six to eight weeks.”

The GP surgeries are contacting their patients to tell them when it is their turn to receive the jab – with Ms Patel’s daughter chipping in herself on the phones.

Do not call your GP as busy phone lines are holding up the surgeries from contacting patients.

“We’re really proud of what we have achieved so far,” Ms Patel said.

“This is something that has got to be done – I don’t think I have even had a minute to think about it since I put myself forward.

“That was until Friday when the sun came out and I went for a stroll on the beach.

“It hit me how important this actually is and it seems to be the only way to get out of this – just isolating and wearing masks is not working.”

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Ms Patel was keen to explain that the process is safe and quick.

She said: “We are very socially distanced as a lot of thought has gone into that side of things – you will not have any contact with people on the way in.

“Everyone is wearing a mask and PPE and we are cleaning chairs in between each patient.

“There’s parking at the health centre and there’s a bus stop nearby.

“Once you’ve had your vaccine you will wait for 15 minutes in an isolation room to make sure everything’s OK.

“We have been going for three weeks and we have had no allergic reactions.

“The most I’ve had reported is a rash on the arm – we’re finding this is very similar to the flu jab.

“You can’t get Covid from the vaccine, it’s not a live virus, and it’s suitable for vegetarians and vegans.”

The Portslade hub has been the centre of some remarkable volunteer efforts.

These include, the story of Catherine Lane, from Hove, who is ferrying vulnerable people to and from the vaccination site.

Speaking of how she got involved, she said: “I was walking along the street and I bumped into an elderly lady friend.

“I asked her how she was doing and she said she was very sad.

“She had declined her Covid vaccine because there was no way she could get to the Portslade Health Centre.

“I started thinking what to do with all the people in her situation.

“I looked into how I could take people safely and brought a passenger screen to make my car Covid secure.

"I said to the centre that I would take people and they bit my hand off. I’ve been doing a relatively small amount, now you’ve got competing taxi companies working together to make sure nobody needs to say no to the vaccine.”

Speaking of the team at the centre, she said: “It’s been humbling, they’re working around the clock to reach people – they’re moving so fast now.”