An Andover pharmacist says that we “have a chance to overtake” Covid-19 as he reveals what life is like for those involved in the national vaccination programme.

Sid Dajani said that he has worked 18 hour days as part of the vaccine programme, and that he is providing vaccines “every time the pharmacy door shuts".

He called on everyone to ensure they got both doses of their Covid vaccine when asked, as well as a flu vaccine, to help lessen the pressure on the NHS.

“It’s really heartbreaking when you listen to people saying they don’t need a vaccine,” he told the Advertiser. “My God, you only need to die once to realise you would have needed it!”

Sid is a high-flying pharmacist living in Andover, having been the youngest to join the Royal Pharmaceutical Society in 1997, and opening his own pharmacy in Bishopstoke in 2005. His work has been recognised with an award for Britain’s Best Pharmacy in 2014.

Since 2010, he has been qualified to give vaccinations across a range of diseases, from hepatitis to typhoid. These skills saw him join the vaccination effort, giving vaccines in Andover, Eastleigh and Christchurch.

“I’ve probably done about 200 vaccines recently,” he said, “and I’m likely to do another 300 in the next five or six days. It’s all hands on deck, whatever else you’ve got going on in your life. I’m running a pharmacy and I’m still doing day to day pharmacy stuff like distributing medicines and running antibody tests. But every time the pharmacy door shuts I’m back vaccinating.”

Sid said that he, and other healthcare staff, are ‘working harder than ever’ to ensure that the vaccines were being delivered.

He said: “We are exhausted. We are frustrated. We are emotionally and physically drained, especially when you consider pharmacies were the only ones to have had their doors open across all the lockdowns. When surgeries closed their doors in the first lockdown, we stayed open, if anything stayed open longer.

He paid tribute to the work of the “amazing” volunteers who were helping the vaccination effort, and coming together.

He said: “We’re skipping breaks, and I’m going in early and coming in late. Sometimes I’m out of the house for 18 hours. We’re missing time with our families, but the truth is we’re doing the best we can. It’s almost like a wartime pandemic, and the fact is we’re still here.”

Even time off is draining, with Sid saying that he had his first day off in two months recently.

He said: “I just felt like I was being punched from all sides after coming back. It was horrible going back to work after a day off as my body was saying: ‘I need [a break]’. Covid has been so tough as it’s been such a steep learning curve, but we’ve all pulled together, we’ve learnt a lot and we’ve managed to achieve a lot.

“What we need from the people we’re vaccinating is the same patience and tolerance so they can help themselves get protected so we can then concentrate scant resources on those who really need it.”

In particular, with the UK now at a “fulcrum point” in its battle with the virus, there was hope that an end may be in sight.

“We have a chance to overtake with the vaccine rather than catching up and second guessing it,” he said. “We’ve done everything possible to ride out the storm, and the last thing we need now is mistruths, lies and exaggerated falsehoods to undermine a very difficult point where we can get ahead of Covid.”

He said that working with patients was vital to ensure that the vaccine is taken up by as many people as possible, even on the day itself.

“The hardest part about this job is making sure that every vaccine you give, whether it’s the first, the fiftieth or even the three hundredth, is that each person has never had the vaccine before, and you have to explain it to them as though they’re the first person you’ve ever done.

“They’re not just numbers, they’re people. Each one has a different opinion, a different concern or a different question and you need to reassure them that their expectations are realistic rather than what they’ve read. That’s the difficult part, is that there are a lot of misperceptions and mythperceptions, and we try and address them as we vaccinate every single person.”

With experience of more than a decade of giving vaccines to the public, Sid says that the Covid vaccine is the only one where he’s seen such a strong response.

“This is the only vaccine that has really blown up,” he said. “Even though it’s a new vaccine, it’s based on the same technology that you would produce, say, the flu vaccine which is an annual variant.”

“It’s really heartbreaking when you listen to people saying they don’t need a vaccine. My God, you only need to die once to realise you would have needed it! You only need to have the infection once to know you would have needed it.”

It’s also a public health challenge being fought on multiple fronts, with Sid saying it is “really important” that vaccines for both flu and Covid are taken up.

“Although the flu vaccine does not protect you from Covid directly, the truth is, if you get the flu, with symptoms or not, your immune system is compromised as you fight it off, which leaves you vulnerable to other infections.

“If you then get Covid, you are four times more likely to die than with either on its own. If you haven’t had a flu vaccine, please go and get one to add to your armoury of defences against disease.”

To those who were still unsure about getting a vaccine, he called on them to speak to their healthcare professional, whether that’s a GP, pharmacist or someone else, adding that there is “very little to lose by having it.”

“You may have some small side effects,” he said, “but they should go within a few days at most.”

For now, Sid will keep working to ensure that he can get the vaccine to as many people as possible, offering his time in “the hope [his] six-year-old daughter will grow up safely.”