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Inside Sydney’s biggest COVID-19 vaccination station

“To be honest, I’m a bit teary. It’s amazing that we are able to do this.”

On Friday morning, dozens of volunteers – walking 1.5 metres apart – made their way through the hub’s front doors.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison watched a simulation of the vaccination process at RPA’s COVID vaccination hub in Sydney on Friday.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison watched a simulation of the vaccination process at RPA’s COVID vaccination hub in Sydney on Friday.Credit:Kate Geraghty

Roughly 130 of these ‘patients’ have taken part in these simulations over several days to prepare staff for the massive vaccine rollout.

“We want everything to run smoothly and everyone who comes for their vaccination to feel really confident about the process,” Dr Anderson said.

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There’s a fresh coat of paint still drying on the interior walls of the building, which is owned by the University of Sydney and loaned to RPA.

The academic building is populated with staff in scrubs, caps, face masks and gloves and pump bottles of hand sanitiser.

Paula Williams, nurse unit manager at the hub, has been dreaming of vaccination day since the start of the pandemic.

“We have been counting down the sleeps,” she said. “All the nurses, the doctors, the cleaners, the engineers, we’ve all been working really hard on this project.”

Specially accredited nurse immunisers will be administering the vaccine, registered nurses will be managing the patients flowing through the hub’s five phases and doctors will be on hand, she said.

Mr Morrison watched a simulation of the vaccination process at RPA in Sydney on Friday.

Mr Morrison watched a simulation of the vaccination process at RPA in Sydney on Friday.Credit:Kate Geraghty

But Ms Williams and her colleagues will have to wait a little longer to receive the vaccine themselves.

Premier Gladys Berejiklian has made it clear frontline workers across Sydney’s quarantine network will be prioritised, the theory being that vaccinating the people at greatest risk of being exposed to the virus – via overseas travellers – gives NSW the best hope of protecting the community.

The workers in line to receive the shot have already accepted their invitations. They’ve been allocated an appointment time and completed an online consent form.

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The car park will be their first checkpoint, where they’ll be temperature-checked, and signed in using a QR code.

Volunteers are directed to one of 11 screening stations where staff check their identification, take their medical history and give them a wristband with a unique QR code.

Anyone with known allergies gets a red wristband. The allergy-free contingent get white bands.

The hub is designed to avoid bottlenecks and long waits in stagnant queues, with wrist-banded patients directed to an auditorium where they sit and wait to be directed upstairs to the pre-vaccination screening area for their final checks.

The hub has been allocated six trays of the Pfizer vaccine per week to vaccinate the bulk of Sydney’s quarantine personnel. Each tray carries 975 vials of the vaccine (5850 vials total) and each vial provides at least five doses.

NSW’s two other major hubs at Westmead and Liverpool hospital will get three trays each.

The vials are kept in minus 80 degree freezers in an undisclosed location on the hospital campus. A daily supply is pulled out and delivered to the hub to thaw in smaller fridges.

The pharmacists preparing the practice vaccines add saline to the vials of red dye before carefully extracting five doses from each vial into five separate syringes.

A small amount of the glossy red liquid sits at the bottom of the vial when all five doses have been extracted.

A worldwide shortage of low dead space syringes designed to extract the last drops of the vaccine from the Pfizer vials mean a sixth dose of the Pfizer vaccine will be wasted. Dr Anderson doesn’t expect the syringes will arrive before April.

“Our staff have been practising to see how much they can get out but it’s really important you have the full dose so unless you can get that sixth full dose you can’t use that sixth dose,” Dr Anderson says.

“Once we get the low dead space syringes we’ll be able to get the sixth.”

Up one more floor are the two vaccination rooms.

“This is where the magic happens,” nurse manager Paula Williams said.

There are seven vaccination stations in each room with a nurse immuniser sitting behind a computer screen hooked up to a barcode scanner. Inside seven white kidney bowls are the carefully-prepared syringes.

A volunteer sits down. The nurse scans their wristband, then the barcode on the syringe to keep track of each dose.

Now would be the moment that the needle would meet skin if the syringe used on Friday was full of coronavirus-fighting vaccine. Their second dose is automatically booked three weeks after their first.

All done, the volunteer moves into the recovery room where they will be under observation in case they exhibit any side effects.

When their time’s up they’re discharged and out the door to make room for the next security guard, police officer, nurse, cleaner or perhaps the Prime Minister ready for their shot.

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