“Despite my job title, first and foremost I’m a pharmacist, and I always will be. Caring for and protecting people is what I do – it’s second nature to me”

How having COVID-19 made LloydsPharmacy Regional Manager Ankit Tyagi want to give up his time to help protect others from the virus.

The last 12 months have bought with them such a rollercoaster of emotions for me. I started 2020 facing redundancy from my role as a Professional Support Manager, then the pandemic hit. In June I secured my current position as Regional Manager for Hertfordshire and in December, I contracted Covid.

As a healthcare professional you know you’re at higher risk of being exposed to the virus, but you just don’t expect it to be you that gets it. That’s when the reality of the pandemic really hit home for me. I’d felt anxious being in our stores despite having adequate PPE and robust policies and procedures in place. I think you just do. But it’s what you signed up for and I knew that by being in our pharmacies, which I am four days a week, I might catch it, and I did.

On Wednesday 9th December it was confirmed. I had the virus. My first thought was naturally my family. My wife was 17 weeks pregnant with our second child and the last thing I wanted was to pass it on, if I hadn’t already. I didn’t want to jeopardise her or our baby’s wellbeing, so I isolated in our spare bedroom for 10 days.

I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to put into words just how difficult being confined to a single room in my own home for that length of time was. All I know is that by the eighth day it was really starting to take its toll on me both physically and mentally. But I look back and laugh in some ways now because before I got Covid part of me did just want to stay at home, wrap my family up in cotton wool and lock the doors. But that’s not what my job is about and being present in the 21 pharmacies I’m responsible for has been more important than ever during all of this. It’s been about facing into the challenges of the pandemic as a team. But now, having spent those 10 days staring at the same four walls without any proper human interaction, all I want to do is be out of the house helping to keep others safe and well.

That’s why, when I got a phone call from an old friend and mentor of mine, who has a pharmacy in Ticehurst, a village in East Sussex, asking whether I wanted to help give Covid vaccines, the answer was a resounding yes. It didn’t matter that I live nearly 2 hours away in St. Albans – I just wanted to help.

So now, I work Monday to Friday doing my normal day job and then on a Saturday, I get up at 6am to travel down to Ticehurst for 8am. As well as being part of the LloydsPharmacy team, I’m now also part of a team of 158 volunteers spending 12 hours a day either jabbing or carrying out clinical assessments. I stay overnight in a hotel on the Saturday, do another 12-hour stint again on the Sunday and then travel back home. Yes, it means working seven days a week. Yes, it means being away from my pregnant wife all weekend. And yes, it means spending money out of my own pocket. But I’m helping a community and I’m giving something back, and that’s why I’m doing it. Despite my job title, first and foremost I’m a pharmacist, and I always will be. Caring for and protecting people is what I do – it’s second nature to me. Luckily my wife understands that. She saw how I was when I had Covid and she knows why this is so important to me.

Admittedly, even the community in Ticehurst are shocked at how far I’m travelling to help. They’re so grateful to all the volunteers dedicating their time to the cause. Together the team are administering around 140-160 vaccines a day, seven days a week. There’s a real sense of community spirit and I’m enjoying being a part of that. It gives you hope that the light at the end of the tunnel is getting closer.

Despite all the ups, and the downs, of the last 12 months I feel very fortunate to still have a job that I love and to have survived a virus so many others haven’t. Of all the emotions I’ve felt during all of this, the most overriding one now is a sense of pride. I’m proud to be a pharmacist. Proud of my team. Proud to be volunteering my time, along with so many others, to help protect the most vulnerable. But most of all, proud to be contributing to a safer world for our baby to be born in to.