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What’s it like going for an impromptu booster at old John Lewis in Aberdeen?

People queueing at the city centre John Lewis. Picture by Wullie Marr.
People queueing at the city centre John Lewis. Picture by Wullie Marr.

Reporter Ben Hendry on what to expect if you’re popping in for a walk-in booster vaccination over the festive period… 

“Next here please!”

It’s a scene that could be playing out in any department store at Christmas, a rushed-off-her-feet worker eager to get a huge queue moving in the right direction.

But this is no ordinary department store, and it’s not an ordinary Christmas.

Twelve months earlier, I had been navigating Aberdeen’s John Lewis in search of a hot chocolate velvetiser. Some last-minute shopping.

The place was busy and I thought that boded well for the future of the Aberdeen institution.

That optimism proved misplaced when it shut it a few months later.

 

John Lewis booster queues. Picture by Wullie Marr

Old store provides shot in the arm for vaccination campaign

There were protests of course, the pages of the Press and Journal and Evening Express bursting with letters about how much the store would be missed.

But there was no saving it.

In the summer, I broke the story about John Lewis being turned into Aberdeen’s new vaccination centre.

And this week I took my place in the queue on George Street for a walk-in booster jab.

I was booked in to have it on Hogmanay, so wasn’t quite sure how the process would work… Should I just wait my turn, and cautiously get through Christmas?

And, as I don’t have an appointment, is there a risk of waiting for hours while jags are doled out to those with pre-booked slots?

How does it work?

Arriving about 20 minutes before the 10am opening time, there are already a few dozen people scattered along the street.

There are two queues – one for appointments and one for walk-ins, so that’s straightfoward enough.

The socially distanced throng moves swiftly, and I realise there was no need to be apprehensive about this taking a long time.

Not long after 10am, I am in the former shop.

By the time I reach the front, passing a cardboard cut-out of Will Ferrell as Elf along the way, any doubts had dissipated.

Then it’s a simple case of providing my name and date of birth, and soon I am whisked towards the rows of cubicles.

The vast shopfloor was transformed at the end of August.

John Lewis booster drive is a sight to behold

It was only then that the eye-opening scale of the operation became clear…

Blue-shirted NHS workers are ensuring maximum efficiency by getting as many needles into arms as possible – assisted by camouflage-clad members of the military.

When I take my place in the booth, the nurse tells me the number of walk-ins has been encouraging to see as efforts to tackle the rise of Omicron ramp up.

The message of getting “boosted by the bells” seems to be hitting home in Aberdeen.

And the city centre location is a large part of that, with many deciding to pop in while picking up their festive supplies in town.

People queuing outside John Lewis for their booster vaccinations

I was back on George Street by 10.30am, leaving with peace of mind more valuable than any kitchen accessory.

As much as we may have become numb to so much of the pandemic, there’s nothing like sitting in John Lewis’s barren haberdashery department (now a post-jab “recovery area”) to remind you how weird things really are.

But among the gloom it was uplifting to see so many people – from the staff and volunteers on hand to the dozens lining up before the venue even opened – showing such determination to keep others safe.

For anyone with any reservations about walking in without an appointment, I can assure you that it couldn’t be an easier process.

If you’re in town over the next few days for some final presents or stocking up for another Hogmanay at home, add it to your list.

In full: Where you can get your Covid booster in Grampian over the festive period

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