A man who switched career to become a Covid-19 vaccinator at Guy’s and St Thomas’ after losing his job managing a gym has been enlisted to help persuade hospital staff to get the jab.
Kazeem Reaves Odunsi, who has been vaccinating people for the south London NHS trust since January this year, said he saw himself as “taking part in history”.
Mr Reaves Odunsi said he first took part in an outreach programme run by Guy’s and St Thomas’ to persuade reluctant staff to get the vaccine. “But turnout was quite low,” he added. There was then a more targeted effort.
“I’ve been asked to speak to essential workers, who are often from ethnic minorities, who are scared to get the vaccine,” he said.
“I’m not putting them under duress – I’m just giving them ten reasons why they should be vaccinated.
When asked why he thought staff might be wary of getting the vaccine, Mr Reaves Odunsi said: “I’m not political, I can’t speak to it. It’s not just a UK thing. It’s a global thing, we are all asked to protect ourselves.”
He added that staff he was speaking to “gave me their own opinions” about the vaccine. Noting that the vaccines do not give total protection from the virus, he said: “In life, there is nothing guaranteed – we have assurance and not insurance.”
Mr Reaves Odunsi has had a pandemic of two halves. He was laid off from his job as a gym manager at the start of lockdown, where he had risen from being a cleaner, to a receptionist, to a sales manager over the course of a decade, before getting the top job.
He had a family to support and went looking for jobs but was unsuccessful. “I didn’t panic. I channelled my energy in the right direction,” he said. He finally got a position at a care home, where bosses thought the new role might be beneath him.
“I said ‘I have a family, I need money, I need a job.’
“So I took on this job. I was caring for a gentleman with terminal cancer.
“A lot of my friends said ‘Kazeem, why are you doing this?’ I said that I’d rather do this than stay at home. At least I’m bringing money home to my family and I’m helping people.”
When the Covid-19 vaccine programme began, Mr Reaves Odunsi applied to Guy’s and St Thomas’ and was taken on in January of this year. Within a few months he was a coordinator in the trust’s six vaccine centres, taking responsibility for reporting figures at the end of the day, and taking care of any accidents.
“It’s amazing – my passion is always to work with people to improve their quality of life,” he said.
“One thing I love is seeing myself as part of a big historical moment. Some people are scared – I went into this crisis head-on.
“I thought ‘what can I do to help the global effort? I can help people get vaccinated, tell people who are scared about the real facts’.”
Despite his new responsibilities as a manager, Mr Reaves Odunsi often still delivers vaccines and relieves his staff when they are tired.
“Two weeks ago I was a pod manager at the London Bridge vaccine centre. Someone came in and said ‘they have a load of patients coming to St Thomas’ – can you go because you’re very fast at delivering the vaccines’. So I was there for four hours, and then I came back to London Bridge for the end of the day.”
Booster jabs are now set to be rolled out to every adult by the end of January, after the onset of the more transmissible Omicron variant of Covid. Asked whether he was concerned about the extra workload, Mr Reaves Odunsi said: “No, it’s not a big stress, it’s something that was anticipated. We know it might be a challenge but the whole pandemic we have been learning and adapting.”