The mass vaccination of thousands of people in Greater Manchester is now underway.
Indoor tennis courts built for the 2002 Commonwealth Games in Manchester have been repurposed to help protect as many people as possible from coronavirus.
The Tennis and Football Centre at the Etihad campus is now the region’s mass vaccination centre and on Monday NHS vaccinators welcomed their first patients.
Patricia Smethurst, 81, was among those queuing patiently for their Oxford-AstraZeneca jabs.
“I’ve been out the house eight times since last March,” says the great-grandmother, who travelled from Middleton Junction for her appointment.
“I’m very, very glad to have had the vaccine today.. Luckily where I live there are of six of us who are all pensioners and we all keep an eye on each other.
“Up until the bad weather I was out in my garden every day – I did 165 hours of gardening last year.
“But I haven’t been able to see my family or grandchildren. I only see them when they drop the shopping at the door.
“I live on my own but I cope well and quite like it. There’s no point being morbid because it does you no good.”
At the moment the vaccination centre operates on an appointment-only basis for people over 80 and health and care workers.
Three tennis courts have been covered with new flooring to host the vaccination pods where NHS workers deliver the injections.
Noel Stringfellow, 86, travelled from Whitefield to get his jab.
“It’s wonderful really. Let’s hope that everyone can get vaccinated as soon as possible,” he said.
“I’m hoping that we can get back to meeting friends and family again indoors, because that’s what we haven’t been able to do for such a long time. That’s what we’ve really missed.
“At the moment I manage to get out and do the shopping, and some exercise.
“But my wife is not very mobile so she has hardly been out of the house in the last 12 months.
“I think it’s excellent here. It’s really well organised.”
It’s been a huge undertaking to build and staff the vaccination centre with planning and recruitment starting last November.
Jacqui Burrow, programme director for the GM Vaccination Centre, said: “This was literally three tennis courts at the beginning.
“All of our partners have come together to build what you can see now which is a pretty good health facility that meets infection and control guidance to deliver what is at times a complex health care intervention both speedily and quickly.”
For NHS leaders like Jacqui, the vaccination centre is the culmination of weeks of careful planning.
“This is the start of hope,” she added.
“It really is the light at the end of the tunnel and we’re not in the light of an oncoming train.
“Instead we are starting to see a way out of it and that’s incredibly exciting.
“But please do get your vaccination because that is our hope.”
Jacqui, who is also director of nursing at the Northern Care Alliance NHS Group, says that it takes around 10-30 minutes for a patient to be vaccinated at the centre depending on their mobility.
She says that the centre is one of several options for people to consider when getting vaccinated.
“We are an ‘as well as’ and not an ‘instead of’,” Jaqui adds.
“You have choice where you can be vaccinated. I think if you’re a shielded individual I would take a really close view as to where you can go.
“People will be invited by their primary care networks; there are pharmacists coming online and many different places. This is just one of them.
“So do not put yourself at risk by going out if that’s against the advice you’ve been given.
“Here we are adhering to all the nosocomial infection prevention measures designed to try and reduce the spread of infection.”
NHS staff administering the vaccine have also been given the jab themselves to reduce the risk of transmission.
Many of the medics have been redeployed from other clinical areas, or have come out of retirement to assist with the vaccination programme.
Kellie Holt worked as a school nurse before the pandemic but is now one of four clinical leads at the vaccination centre in Manchester.
Her main aim is to make sure that staff and patients are safe of the site.
Kellie, from Littleborough, said: “This centre is important because it means we can vaccinate on a large scale.
“People want to get vaccinated because they want to get back to some sort of normality.
“We’ve had people from Littleborough, from Milnrow, from Cheadle, from Bury; people have come from all over because they are very keen to get vaccinated..”
Other mass vaccination centres have opened at venues in London, Newcastle, Birmingham, Bristol, Surrey and Stevenage.
The hubs are set to help the government meet its target of vaccinating 14 million people UK-wide by February.
In Manchester, six new community vaccination centres are going ‘live’ over the next seven days.
Vaccinations are also being carried out separately at care homes and hospitals in Manchester, as well as the mass vaccination site at the Etihad campus.
All 85 GP practices in Manchester have signed up to support the delivery of the vaccine.
More information and advice about the national vaccination programme can be found online at www.nhs.uk/covid-vaccination