New Covid-19 mass-vaccination centre in Lancaster brings hope to thousands
The new mass vaccination unit which opened at Lancaster Town Hall today is set to bring hope and 'a light at the end of the tunnel' to thousands of residents across the district and further afield.
The basement at the historic building in Dalton Square has been transformed from accommodating its usual revenues and benefits office staff to become a bustling operation ready to vaccinate up to 1,000 Lancastrians a day.
Among its very first patients on Monday was Sue Hubbard, who was able to walk from her home in Lancaster for the first of her two vaccinations.
The 65-year-old grandmother has leukaemia, and the jab means she can now look forward to seeing her family for the first time in months.
"I got the call on Sunday morning to say I had been invited down, and I was very pleased," she said. "My husband Maurice had his done at the university on Saturday so I was expecting to be called soon.
"I feel a little bit safer now - it's a huge relief. Having leukaemia means I have had to shield because although the underlying condition is controlled, I am at risk of infection.
"We don't see our two daughters or our granddaughter at the moment, which has been hard for everybody.
"There's still a long way to go but I feel like I am on the road to the light at the end of the tunnel, so it does feel good, and our daughters will be very pleased we've both been vaccinated now."
Sue praised the service she had experienced during her visit.
"It's all been very efficient," she said. "It was all done very quickly and was painless. I didn't realise I was going to be one of the first but it's all been very easy - there are people to look after you and support you, it has all been very straightforward.
"I know lots of my friends are waiting for their appointments now, and I would encourage anybody to have it done."
St John's Hospice data analyst Robb Clapp was also among the centre's initial patients.
As an employee at a health care employer, the 28-year-old was invited to be vaccinated in one of the early stages of the roll-out.
"We have been really lucky to be able to come along in this wave after the clinical staff," he said. "I only got the call this morning but it was one of the easiest choices I have had to make.
"We have all been very enthuisiastically waiting for our jabs, and it's a massive relief.
"I have got elderly relatives and hearing that my grandfather has been for his first jab recently has been great as well."
The Lancaster centre, which opened on Monday morning alongside one at Blackpool Winter Gardens, is the next phase in rolling out the Covid-19 vaccinations in Lancashire and south Cumbria after the first centre opening at Blackburn Cathedral last week.
There will be more centres opening in the coming weeks in south Cumbria, Preston and Burnley.
The centres will be used to vaccinate people in the community and frontline health and care staff, and are part of the wider network of vaccination hubs and centres run by hospitals, primary care and pharmacies.
They are a collaboration between the local NHS, local authorities, the public and private sector and voluntary organisations.
The unit has two pods where vaccines are being drawn up by trained medical professionals, with each pod having two bays where vaccinations will take place.
A smooth system will see a patient vaccinated every five minutes with the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine, and, unlike with the Pfizer vaccine, they do not have to wait afterwards - although it is recommended people do not drive for 15 minutes after their jab.
The unit will be open 11 hours a day, seven days a week, and from tomorrow patients can book via the national appointment system once they have been invited to attend.
Dr Sarah Hauxwell, clinical director of core clinical services, University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay NHS Foundation Trust, said it was important that the region could now offer such a large-scale service.
"We are really excited that as a trust we can help with vaccinating our population," she said. "We are starting small but from tomorrow people will be invited to book their appointment through the national booking system.
"Nationally, Lancashire and south Cumbria is in the top five for vaccinations but we know we still have people we are unable to reach, and it's absolutely important that we get everyone in the top four categories vaccinated as soon as possible.
"Being able to offer a service where we can vaccinate hundreds of people a day is really important.
"At full capacity each of our two pods will do about 500 vaccinations a day, so we are looking at vaccinating around 1,000 people a day."
Dr Hauxwell said it is understood that, despite being ahead of other parts of the country, the region will be allowed to continue to deliver vaccinations at its current pace without having the redistribute them nationally.
And she said it has been emotional to be in the privileged position of contacting residents about their appointments.
"When you talk to people and offer the vaccination it is one of the best phone calls you can make. It's nice to be able to reach out and do something positive; it feels really good," she said.
"Particularly for some of the older adults, some of them have been shielding for a long time and have had minimal social interaction and for them to be able to get vaccinated it can feel like a light at the end of the tunnel."
Dee Houghton, deputy chief operating officer for community, University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay NHS Foundation Trust, has been supporting and enabling the vaccination centres.
She said it was an important step towards getting the entire local population vaccinated.
"It has been a phenomenal amount of work behind the scenes by a lot of people to put it into place," she said. "It's an amazing moment to see it all come together."
Jane Scattergood, Covid-19 vaccination director for Lancashire and south Cumbria, said the centres will help take some of the pressure off GP services.
"These centres are just about vaccinations, whereas GP services have a lot of other work to do," she said. "We can immunise as many people as possible without compromising the GP services.
"It has been very emotional for people. I have given some vaccinations and eople will cry because they have been shielding for so long and it's the light at the end of the tunnel for them.
"We thank all our partners who have helped to get us to this point."
Lancaster City Council leader, Coun Dr Erica Lewis, added: "It's really good to see the town hall being put to good use like this. This centre will vaccinate thousands of people every week, and as England has never quite got on top of the pandemic it's important that we get everyone vaccinated as quickly as possible."
In Lancashire and south Cumbria, around 75 per cent of people aged 80 and over have already been vaccinated, thanks to partnership working across NHS, local authorities, public sector, health and care staff, volunteers and other partners.
However, the opening of the large-scale centres will allow a far greater number of people to be vaccinated each day.
Initially, people aged 75 and over and those who are extremely clinically vulnerable who haven’t already been vaccinated by their local GP-led vaccination services or hospital hub will be the first people to receive letters to book their appointments
Vaccination centres will also work directly with local health and care employers to directly book staff into appointments.
They will be staffed by clinicians, non-registered vaccinators, administrative staff and a range of volunteers who will help make a visit run as smoothly and safely as possible.
The vaccination programme is led by the Lancashire and South Cumbria Integrated Care System, which is a partnership of NHS, local authority, public sector and voluntary, community, faith and social enterprise organisations.
The NHS will get in touch when it’s your turn to be vaccinated; please don’t call the centres.
Once you have a letter, your appointment can be booked in two ways - by booking online at www.nhs.uk/covid-vaccination or by calling 119.
Volunteer drivers can also help if anyone is struggling to travel to their vaccination.