Joanne Reynard tells Christine Fernando how a pair of colourful pom-pom-coated characters helped Leeds Community Healthcare Trust get its frontline staff vaccinated against flu
Nurse Joanne Reynard spent years tending to patients while flying across the world in a converted TriStar airliner. She flew to Fiji with a patient injured in Afghanistan and watched an old woman on a stretcher smile as she travelled to spend her last moments of life at home in the Falklands.
However, it was two costumes made from pom-poms, papier-mâché and onesies that earned her the title of flu fighter champion.
Three years ago, Ms Reynard, an infection prevention specialist nurse from Leeds Community Healthcare Trust, joined her local campaign for flu fighters, the national effort led by NHS Employers to encourage influenza vaccination.
During her daily commute from Bradford to Leeds, she tried to come up with some out-of-the-box ideas to help the initiative – she describes it as “blue sky thinking”. After 40 minutes of driving, Frankie and Flo – a red and blue duo of flu bug mascots – were born.
“I wanted to show that, while the flu is very serious, we have to do something different to get the message out,” she said. “Flo and Frankie helped us do that.”
Ms Reynard bought fuzzy onesies, plaster modelling bandages and pom-poms, and sat down with her children, then aged nine and 12, to bring her vision to life.
At first, the rest of her flu fighter team was hesitant. Her manager did not think doctors would be interested in seeing two people dressed in onesies at conferences. But, as people started to meet Flo and Frankie, the team members knew it was a turning point for the campaign.
“I think people thought I was a bit mad,” Ms Reynard said. “But those first few pictures with Frankie and Flo really changed the way the flu campaign went.”
The team took Flo and Frankie along to conferences and school visits and took turns dressing up as the characters – snapping photos with children and adults alike. Their Facebook page was flooded with pictures of the colourful, smiling creatures. Ms Reynard and her manager even went on air for BBC Radio Leeds while dressed up as the duo.
The team results were significant. They saw their vaccination rates skyrocket, with 76.9% of staff members getting vaccinated – the highest rate of any other community trust in the 2016/17 flu season. Overall, in 2017/18, 704,242 frontline healthcare workers were vaccinated across trusts – 85,000 more than the year before.
But Flo and Frankie were only the beginning. Ms Reynard worked with campaign members to flesh out a social media presence, offer personal vaccination visits and switch to an electronic system for recording vaccines.
“We can’t make people do anything,” she said. “The vaccine is a choice. All we can do is go out and be visible, try to share the message on social media and get our own flu jabs so we can lead by example.”
Her efforts earned her the title of this year’s national flu fighter champion at the annual Flu Fighter Awards, held on 24 April at the Midland Hotel in Manchester. After the ceremony, she shared a bottle of champagne with her husband to celebrate, and then it was back to work.
“There’s still so much to do,” Ms Reynard said. “So many people don’t think they need the flu jab, because they’re healthy or they think the flu jab gives you the flu or that it doesn’t work. There are so many myths we’re trying to combat.”
By fighting the myths and emphasising that people can carry the flu and spread it to others without showing symptoms themselves, Ms Reynard hopes to tackle the last 20% of healthcare workers who do not get vaccinated.
“We want to show people what is in it for them,” she said. “It protects staff. It protects you. It protects everyone around you and your family too.”
How do I get to be you?
To anyone interested in trying to become a flu fighter champion, look at NHS Employers’ flu fighter page. Have
a click, give the team a ring or follow them on Facebook or Twitter. Take advantage of social media – it is so amazing. Twitter is such a brilliant tool and you can share so much. You can link in and see what other people are doing and learn. You can see the big picture and get the message out to people. It’s not just a social thing – it’s also professional and can be used in such a great way. However, if people want to be flu fighter champions, that Facebook page is the best place to start.