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 on Monday morning as nurses prepared to vaccinate thousands at socially distanced tables or cubicles.
The sites are capable of delivering one jab every 45 seconds and are widely considered to be the ‘way out’ of the current pandemic.
Moira Edwards, 88, became the first person to receive the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab at Epsom racecourse in Surrey at around 8.15am.
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.
1,200 UK centres
She said: “I had no hesitation at coming forward for my vaccination when it was offered to me. I have quite a large family, who all live near me, and feel it is extremely important to protect myself and them.
“Having this vaccine makes it a step closer to being with my family again and giving them a big hug.”
Professor Stephen Powis, NHS England national medical director, said the site planned to vaccinate at least 500 people on Monday, 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.
15 million vulnerable people
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 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.
Great-grandfather Nana Kwabena Edusei, 81, was the first member of the public to be jabbed at Newcastle’s Centre for Life, which will be able to vaccinate eight patients every five minutes.
“It was not a problem at all”
Mr Edusei, a retired manager with Associated British Foods, said after his experience: “It was not a problem at all.
“They asked me a few questions about my health, I signed a form, everything went smoothly, I didn’t feel the injection at all.
“I’m so surprised.
“I’m very pleased I have had the injection and now I am relaxed that I know I have had it.”
The father of three, who has three grandchildren, was born in Ghana and has been in the UK for 55 years, living in Heaton, Newcastle.
He urged other people his age to be vaccinated, saying: “I’m going to tell all my friends that it’s a good thing to have done.”
Prof 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.”
Prof 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.
“Get it done, no messing about”
The grandfather, who has two children, said people should be vaccinated if they get the chance, adding: “Get it done, no messing about.
“It will make them feel happier once it is done.”
Professor Neil Watson, who is running the coronavirus vaccination programme in the North East and Cumbria, said the launch on Monday was the “next gear” in the vaccine rollout.
Prof Watson said: “We will be seeing across the country in each of the centres thousands of patients coming through on a weekly basis, which is a step change.”