The first mass Covid-19 vaccination centres have been opened in the UK as cases soar around the country.
Cars were first pictured turning up to the NHS mass vaccination centre that has been set up in the grounds of Epsom Race Course in Surrey.
There was also a 200-metre long line of care workers, ambulance staff, paramedics and frontline NHS heroes at the Centre for Life in Newcastle upon Tyne where there were two vaccination ‘pods’ dealing with four patients every five minutes.
The push to vaccinate the UK against Covid-19 reaches a new level today as several mass injection centres are due to open amid dire warnings in all four nations over high levels of infection and struggling hospital systems.
Ashton Gate football stadium in Bristol, Epsom racecourse in Surrey, 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 older, along with health and care staff.
These centres 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 of sites to around 1,200.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock will today set out the Government’s new plan for delivering vaccines, which it is hailing as the “keystone of our exit out of the pandemic”.
The first 130,000 invitations asking the elderly to sign up for a jab at the centres were due to arrive over the weekend, with more than 500,000 to follow over the next seven days.
The letters have been sent to people aged 80 or older who live between a 30 to 45-minute drive from one of seven new regional centres, with information about how they can book a slot either over the phone or via an online national booking service.
Moira Edwards, 88, became the first person to receive a coronavirus jab at Epsom racecourse in Surrey.
Ms Edwards, from Cobham in Surrey, who received her first dose beside her daughter Clare Edwards, said it was “extremely important” to get the vaccine.
She said: “Having this vaccine makes it a step closer to being with my family again and giving them a big hug.”
The first patient to receive his Oxford/AstraZeneca jab at Newcastle’s mass vaccination centre at the Centre for Life was 81-year-old Nana Kwabena Edusie.
Originally from Ghana, Mr Edusie has been in the UK for 55 years and lives in the Heaton area of the city.
The retired bakery manager, married for 55 years, said it felt good to be the first person to be protected.
Retired Geordie factory worker Jimmy Charlton, 80, of Newcastle, was No 2 in the queue and felt ‘relief’ – and privileged to be among the first.
“It means I will be able to go out now and again and get some fresh air,” he said. “I’ve been afraid to put my foot out of the front door.”
Jacqueline Corney, 56, from Portishead, was one of the first to have the Oxford jab in Bristol.
The social care worker said: “It’s absolutely brilliant. I feel privileged to be on the list to get it. I’m really happy and I think everyone should get it when they’re asked. They should do it, definitely.
“It went fine. There are lots of people in there and they all know what they are doing. I work with people with special needs so I’m quite high on the list. My mum is happy for me. She’s quite elderly.
“I think people aren’t following the rules quite as well as they did before. There are lots more people out and about and not social distancing like they were before. Absolutely not. People need to pay more attention. We only have a little while longer to go with this. We’ve only got to follow the rules for a short time. Then we’ll get the vaccinations and go back to normal hopefully.
“I do get a second vaccine in a few months back here I think.
“The first dose will cover me going by the science. I’m all for it. I think it’s brilliant. It was very efficient. I’m looking forward to being able to go and see my mum, who is in her 80s and not worry. And my eight year old grandson
“I see my mum sometimes as I’m in her bubble but it’s a bit scary. My grandson I haven’t really seen for three or four months since the summer really.
“I It was a case of going in, they ask questions about allergies. Then you go in for your jab. It’s all wonderful. I’m over the moon.”
Professor Neil Watson, chief operating officer for the Covid-19 vaccination programme in the North east, said: “This is a really important day. The hope that we can offer is that our lives will change and go back to normal in time.
“Hope is really key at the moment – we all need that. It is going to give everyone the uplift we are all in desperate need of.”
Dozens of people started to arrive at the vaccination centre in Stevenage this morning patiently queuing in the cold before their jab.
Tony Gluck, 87, brought his wife 85-year-old Rhoda to have the vaccine.
She was notified by her GP that she was on the list but Tony didn’t.
“I’m taking her in now,” said Tony, from Radlett, Herts. “We have no idea why she is getting the vaccination today but I’m not.
“It doesn’t seem fair.”
Hazel Daughtry, 80, from Potters Bar said: “I was told yesterday and I’m getting the vaccination this morning.”
Authorities at Robertson House in Stevenage prepared this morning for the first of tens of thousands of elderly people to receive the Covid-19 vaccination.
Road signs were put in place to guide people into the huge council administration block on an industrial estate in the Hertfordshire town.
A nearby road was closed and a dozen members of staff in hi-vis jackets made final preparations for the mass roll-out.
The Government has set a target of having 15 million people vaccinated by mid-February, with every adult in the UK vaccinated by autumn.
Nadhim Zahawi, the minister in charge of vaccine deployment, said that most people currently had “about a 45-minute drive” or less to a vaccination centre, but his aim was that no-one in the UK was “more than a 10-mile radius”.
Mr Zahawi told Times Radio that he wanted to reach the point where people could simply walk into their community pharmacy or local GP to receive a vaccine.
He said that 15 million people will be told a vaccine is ready for them by mid-February.
He told Sky News: “The top four categories, actually, for the UK is 15 million people, in England it’s about 12 million people, so we will have offered a vaccination to all of those people.”
Pressed on the difference between being offered a jab and being vaccinated, he said: “When you offer a vaccination it doesn’t mean a Royal Mail letter, it means the vaccine and the needle and the jab are ready for you.
“What you will see us publishing is the total numbers of people being vaccinated, not being offered a vaccine, and that’s the number to hold us to account to.”