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Football stadium and conference centre among venues as England opens up its mass vaccination hubs

Seven mass vaccination centres opened across England today.

2.57487619 (1) Source: PA Images

THE FIRST MASS vaccination centres have opened in England as the huge effort to protect the most at-risk people got a shot in the arm.

Queues formed outside the sites early this morning as nurses prepared to vaccinate thousands at socially distanced tables or cubicles.

Moira Edwards (88) became the first person to receive the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab at Epsom racecourse in Surrey at around 8.15am.

Edwards, from Cobham in Surrey, who received her first dose beside her daughter Clare Edwards, said it was “extremely important” to get the vaccine.

Professor Stephen Powis, NHS England national medical director, said the site planned to vaccinate at least 500 people today, and would be “ramping it up in the coming days”.

The new centres – including at a football stadium and a tennis club – will be joined later this week by hundreds more GP-led and hospital services along with the first pharmacy-led pilot sites, taking the total to around 1,200, NHS England said.

The locations – also including Ashton Gate in Bristol, the ExCel Centre where London’s Nightingale hospital is based, Newcastle’s Centre for Life, the Manchester Tennis and Football Centre, Robertson House in Stevenage and Birmingham’s Millennium Point – will offer jabs to people aged 80 and above, along with health and care staff.

The UK Government is aiming to offer a vaccination to 15 million vulnerable people in the UK – including the over-80s, care home residents and health and care staff – by the middle of February.

Around two million people in the UK have now received their first dose of the vaccine.

2.57488720 The NHS vaccine centre that has been set up at the Centre for Life in Times Square, Newcastle. Source: Owen Humphreys/PA

Professor Powis said supply is the “rate-limiting factor” in how quickly the vaccines can be rolled out.

He said: “Every week we are getting more supply but of course these are new vaccines, manufacturers are stepping up their manufacturing processes… we are confident that as long as we get the supplies then we’ll be able to jab the people who need the vaccine.”

Powis said he is “confident we have enough staff”, and the NHS has had a “tremendous response” to the call for vaccine volunteers, with 80,000 people so far having come forward to assist the mammoth operation.

He encouraged more people to come forward as volunteers, adding that it is “critical” the public continue to abide by coronavirus restrictions in the meantime.

Jimmy Charlton (80) from Blakelaw, Newcastle, was another early patient at the Newcastle centre, where people were queuing by 9am.

He said the way the centre was organised was “spot on” and the experience could not have gone better.

In Ireland, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said that it was hoped that 40,000 people would receive a Covid-19 vaccination this week. 

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Varadkar said that supply is a “constraint” at present, with the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine the only one currently available in Ireland. Last week, European authorities approved the Moderna vaccine and a decision on the Astrazeneca one is expected at the end of this month.

He said that “some countries are ahead of us” but that it “can’t happen much faster” at present. 

He said that from March or April, the vaccine will be administered in GPs, pharmacies and vaccination centres and it wouldn’t be until “after Easter” when people who are generally well and under the age of 65 will begin to receive the vaccine. 

Vaccinating the most at-risk groups now will be a “game changer” in reducing hospitalisations and deaths, Varadkar said. 

The Tánaiste also indicated that any easing of restrictions before the end of February may only be partial. 

“Let’s take the pressure off hospitals,” he said, adding that the “risk of opening up and ending up in a fourth wave” should not be taken. 

Varadkar added that he thinks this summer “will be a good summer” and that the effect of the vaccines will be seen in the second quarter of this year. 

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