Misc 17/01/2021

Retired nurses self-organize and vaccinate 80% of the Hospital de Sant Pau in Barcelona

A team of retired women leads the vaccination campaign

Gemma Garrido Granger
3 min
Núria Guàrdia, in the blue hat, supervizing vaccinations at Hospital de Sant Pau, Barcelona.

BarcelonaIn a small cubicle on the 2nd floor of the Hospital de Sant Pau in Barcelona, three nurses meticulously prepare the syringes and vials for the covid vaccination. They are methodical and show great confidence in their movements. With forty years of experience and an unquestionable vocation, they are accomplished professionals who, despite being retired, have trained to return to what has been their home for decades to vaccinate their former colleagues. "We want to free them from other responsibilities, and from working overtime", Núria Guàrdia, who is in charge of the process, explains.

At the Sant Pau, no active professionals are vaccinating: a total of sixteen retired nurses take turns voluntarily to do so. By administering forty doses every hour, they have already managed to vaccinate 80% of the staff in just one week. The hands of these nurses, a reference for many of the health care providers, are more valuable than ever in the midst of the growing pressure to provide care. They have all been working hard for months now. "They, who have been bosses, teachers and colleagues, give us their time again. We all have full confidence in them", Rafael Padrós, head of the occupational hazards team, says.

Health workers pass through the vaccination point and everyone smiles under their mask when they come out. They feel that the end of the nightmare is getting nearer. They feel a little more relieved, as nurse Marina Esteve or auxiliary nurse Carmen Alcalá do. They both describe it as an "honour" that their former colleagues have made the effort to return to vaccinate them. "I feel useful for them, and they are having such a hard time", Glòria Casajús, a 63-year-old nurse who had taken early retirement just before the epidemic broke out explains. Vaccination, she says, is her "small help" to fight the virus in her hospital.

A WhatsApp chat

The creation of this pioneering group in Catalonia was born precisely from an exchange of messages between Casajús and the centre's director of infectious diseases, Joaquín López-Contreras. "On January 3rd he congratulated me for the new year, and I, who saw that the vaccination was not progressing, had a catharsis", Casajús explains. "How can it be that we are not vaccinating? Why can't you count on retired workers?", she answered indignantly.

"I automatically took her word for it and within 48 hours we had consulted the management and taken legal advice", the doctor says. The College of Nurses offers a free policy until June for retired professionals who return to do covide-related work. And they knew that not only Casajús was willing to vaccinate: a dozen retired nurses had already mobilized to ask for information. They all wanted to collaborate. "They are like mothers: they never resign", López-Contreras praises.

All they needed was a group of Whatsapp, which soon began to fire up: there are now almost forty members, even though only a dozen are giving out vaccines. "The sky opened up for us: it's our home, we know the environment and we have the skills. We knew it was a safe and feasible strategy", Casajús summarizes. The team is very involved and very proactive. "Every day I get a call with improvements that we could implement to speed up the circuits", Padrós exemplifies.

"Beginners" despite their experience

The queue of workers waiting for their turn to receive the vaccine is endless. Guàrdia, Casajús and the rest of the nurses are organized in groups of three and in two shifts - from 7 to 14 and from 14 to 21 hours - every day of the week. "We all have an indispensable role: one reconstitutes the vaccine; another loads the doses, and another administers them", Guàrdia explains.

However, the covid vaccination process isn't a piece of cake, the nurse explains: you have to plan and, above all, train. The particularities of the Pfizer vaccine have altered the conventional protocol and forced them to forget what they had always done so as not to damage the preparation. They have had to relearn how to vaccinate. "Feeling like a novice nurse at 63, after 36 years of practice, is not pleasant", Casajús admits.

Nurses have a lot of tics or manias, like hitting the vaccine bottle with their fingernails, and none of this can be done with the Pfizer product. It has to be handled very carefully and with great responsibility. "It's what everyone has been waiting for, we can't fail or waste the product", they explain. Each vial provides five doses, but with the leftovers you can get a sixth. Getting it and avoiding waste depends on the skill of the nurse and the pace of preparation: if it is done slowly it can be extracted. They get it 98% of the time.

Once the vials are defrosted, you have to warm them up with your hands and make ten gentle movements to remove the residual cold from the inside. "It can never be shaken, we could spoil it", Guàrdia points out. Then the physiological serum is added and moved again to integrate the preparation. "The first day I slept little and moved with insecurity. It took me two hours to get rid of the tremors", Casajús admits. Now they are experts and are ready for the second round of vaccination.