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Couple drives 60 miles for walk-in COVID vaccine at St George’s Hospital

A couple who drove 60 miles for a coronavirus vaccine have claimed that a south west London hospital used leftover supplies to immunise them despite not having an appointment.

Mike Stewart, 72, and his wife Jan, 70, drove from their home in Berkshire to have a walk-in COVID vaccine at St George’s Hospital in Tooting, despite the NHS asking people to wait to be contacted.

The hospital has urged people to wait for an appointment, but it appears to have accepted walk-in vaccines at the Atkinson Morley Wing.

Stewart said: “We jumped in the car and drove up to south west London and despite the fact the hospital is festooned with signs saying ‘do not come unless you have an appointment’ they were very welcoming.

“They’re quite happy to use it on people who walked up, providing they’re the proper age group.

“I think it would be appalling to throw this stuff away after all we’ve gone through. I’d rather give it to anybody as long as they need it.

“There’s a residual suspicion of NHS efficiency and we just thought ‘If this is legitimate and we’re not jumping any queues or whatever, why not have it done as soon as you can?’ 

“We’ve been brought up to believe NHS computer systems aren’t really all that wonderful and this one seems to work. Four days after we had the inoculation we got a letter posted inviting us to go back for the follow back in St George’s.

“When you go in to have the inoculation you have to fill in a form and I thought when we put our address down as Newbury, Berkshire when we’re in south west London that would be rejected. 

“It took 15 minutes between us turning up and us having the injection. I’m in a state of catatonic astonishment about the efficiency of the NHS.

“I was enormously relieved after receiving the vaccine.

“You certainly feel a little supermanish that you have some protection now. I’ve not had any side effects and neither has Jan. It was done very efficiently.”

In a Twitter post, St George’s denied walk-in vaccinations are available.

A St George’s spokesperson said the hospital would not waste vaccines and they would contact eligible patients or staff if they had leftovers jabs. 

She said: “We are in the process of contacting eligible patients by phone and letter to offer them the opportunity to book their COVID-19 vaccine at St George’s.

“Vaccines are by appointment only, and these are being managed to ensure that no vaccines are wasted. We will contact you when it’s your turn to have the vaccine, so please don’t contact or try to visit the hospital to seek a vaccine before then.

“We have not and will not waste any vaccines because we plan accordingly.” 

VACCINE READY: The Pfizer vaccine must be stored at -70ºC and has a short shelf life after being defrosted

A retired GP from near the area, aged 70, said a friend who is a nurse in the St George’s area had contacted him saying St George’s were doing walk-ins for over-70s.

He has remained anonymous to protect his medical colleagues in the area.

He said: “I jumped straight in the car and went up there. They weren’t worried about your postcode.

“It was a bit difficult to find but having found it I walked in. I was expecting to queue around the corner for two hours but it was straight in.

“I’m in the vulnerable age group, I don’t have particular medical problems but I sure as hell don’t want to get COVID. There’s a risk there so I was keen to get it.

“I’m deeply cynical about NHS computers and software but four days later I got a letter saying my appointment for the second jab was about 11 weeks after the first one.”

Since his first injection his local practice contacted him about setting up an appointment, but when he went to fill it in out of interest, the system recognised he had already received his first dose.

He added: “I thought that was actually quite impressive and quite encouraging. Obviously the national database seems to be working on that basis, which is perhaps surprising for the NHS but reassuring.”

The Pfizer vaccine must remain at minus 70 before being opened and once it is defrosted it has a short shelf life.

If patients miss vaccination appointments this can lead to leftover vaccines, which may be at risk of being thrown away.

The retired GP, who himself has been training to become an immuniser, said: “I think what we’re doing is maximising efficiency and not wasting anything. 

“The actual process at St George’s was run incredibly efficiently with appropriate distancing, with very friendly experienced people doing it. I absolutely couldn’t fault it. They were spot-on. It was very encouraging.”

You can read more about the NHS vaccine guidance here.

Featured Image Credit: Peter Trimming/Geograph

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