Two landmark venues in Devon are opening as NHS Vaccination Centres today (26 January), ready to vaccinate tens of thousands of local people in coming weeks.
The Mayflower Grandstand at Plymouth Argyle Football Club’s Home Park Stadium, and exhibition and event venue Westpoint Exeter will be offering their first booked appointments to people in priority groups from Tuesday.
The two sites in Devon are among six launching across the South West today, bringing the national total to 50.
The Home Park and Westpoint Exeter sites mean thousands more vaccinations will be given every week in Devon and provide local people have a wider choice of options when they receive their invitation for an appointment.
Anyone who cannot or does not want to travel to one of the sites can be vaccinated by their local GP service. Nobody needs to contact the NHS, as people will be invited when it is their turn and people cannot get vaccinated by just turning up.
Darryn Allcorn, Lead Chief Nurse for Devon and Chief Nurse at Devon Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), said: “Every time someone in Devon is vaccinated, it brings us a small step closer to the end of the pandemic.
“These two new sites will deliver thousands of vaccinations each week, initially bringing reassurance, safety and peace of mind for those receiving the jab, and in time, when restrictions are lifted, the confidence and safety to get back to normal life.
“Well done and thank you to everyone who has worked so hard to make these sites happen in such a short space of time.”
Centres will be staffed by specially trained vaccinators and support staff, with help from dozens of volunteers, with more being sought to help out in coming weeks.
The Home Park site will be managed by University Hospitals Plymouth NHS Trust, which runs the city’s Derriford Hospital.
Plymouth Argyle FC has been supporting the NHS since the beginning of the pandemic, with the Mayflower Grandstand temporarily hosting health services such as phlebotomy and antenatal services to relieve pressure on Derriford.
Argyle Chief Executive Officer Andrew Parkinson said: “We are delighted to have once again been able to offer up Home Park to assist with the fight to end the coronavirus pandemic.
“Of course, when we opened our brand-new Mayflower Grandstand a little under a year ago, we had no idea what was around the corner - but I am proud that we have been able to make a tangible contribution to the city’s efforts throughout a challenging year.”
The club expects minimal disruption for supporters attending Home Park on match- days, as and when restrictions are lifted, although it does affect the club’s ability to provide hospitality within the Club Argyle lounge*.
Sue Wilkins, Director of Mass Vaccination and Testing for University Hospitals Plymouth NHS Trust said: “The opening of the large scale vaccination centre in Plymouth is a significant moment. The facility at Home Park is the culmination of a huge amount of work by many committed people in very short space of time. We are very grateful to everyone who has enabled us to get to this point, including our hosts at Plymouth Argyle.
“Please wait until you receive a letter before attending the site; this will happen for everyone who has not had a vaccination at another venue in due course. When you receive a letter it will give you the choice of coming to the centre for your vaccination and explain how to book. If you are nervous about attending the site, may I reassure you every measure has been put in place to make it a safe venue.
“It’s important to remember that immunity is not instantaneous, nor is it guaranteed; you can still carry the virus even after vaccination.”
Plymouth City Council is also supporting the project, identifying a site with plenty of parking and arranging signage, marshals, security support and traffic management.
The council’s Cabinet Member for Health and Adult Social Care Kate Taylor
said: “We are proud to be part of a city-wide co-ordinated response to this awful pandemic. All those involved have worked flat out to get this site up and running and here at Plymouth City Council we are enormously glad to see the site open and operating.
“Don’t just rock up though! The roll out is being carried in such a way that prioritises the elderly and those who are clinically vulnerable and they are being sent letters of when to attend. Put it simply wait until you are called!”
Westpoint Exeter will be managed by the Royal Devon and Exeter NHS Foundation Trust (RD&E), which runs the city’s Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital.
Suzanne Tracey, Chief Executive of the RD&E and Northern Devon Healthcare Trust said: “Hundreds of people from different sectors have worked tirelessly to bring this centre together at a remarkable speed, and I’d like to thank each and every one of them for helping us to protect our communities against COVID-19.
“If you are invited to attend an appointment here, I can reassure you that measures are in place to keep everyone safe, and our brilliant staff and volunteers will look after you while you’re with us.
“Although there is light at the end of the tunnel, cases of COVID-19 in the community remain high, and so it’s really important that we continue to observe the national lockdown, staying at home unless for work, exercise or essential activities.”
Richard Maunder, Chief Executive at Westpoint Exeter, said: “Westpoint, Exeter, with its easy access and parking, is perfectly located to be used as a mass vaccination centre. The Devon County Agricultural Association is delighted to be supporting the national effort whilst also helping our local community.”
The site was established by the NHS with support from a team of volunteers from Network Rail, whose volunteers also pitched in to help set up the NHS Nightingale Hospital in Exeter last year.
Nick Millington, Network Rail’s director of Safety taskforce, said: “It was immensely rewarding to have helped build the Nightingale Hospital in Exeter last year and to see so many colleagues pull together again in a similar fashion speaks volumes of the selfless individuals who have contributed their time to get this vaccination facility up and running.”
If members of the public want to volunteer to be part of the biggest vaccination programme in NHS history, volunteer stewards and marshals are needed to support our local sites at Home Park and Westpoint. They will help manage patient flow and direct people as required.
The volunteering itself is flexible – shifts are four hours long and there is no minimum commitment. Volunteers can choose their shifts and work more than one shift in a row, if they so wish. The times of the shifts are 8am-12pm, 12pm-4pm, and 4pm- 8pm, seven days per week.
To register, fill in a simple application form here: http://ow.ly/l91R50DcyPA
Staff from Exeter Chiefs will be volunteering as marshals and stewards at Westpoint.
Aron Struminski, Community Development Manager for the Exeter Chiefs, said: "As a club we know how much we rely on our local community for support. Now, when the community needs us to step up, we want to help give back a little ourselves and that is why we are delighted that a number of our staff at Sandy Park have stepped up to volunteer at the new Exeter vaccination centre.
"These are incredibly tough times for all of us, but the roll out of the vaccination is a huge step in the right direction and we are determined to do our bit in helping combat this pandemic.”
Appointments, which are offered by letter via a nationally-run booking system, are staggered to allow for social distancing and people are urged not to turn up early to avoid queues.
The new vaccine centres will each be capable of delivering thousands of jabs each week but scaling up and down according to vaccine supplies and demand.
If anyone invited has received a jab since the letter was sent out or would prefer to wait to be invited to attend a hospital or GP service they can simply ignore it.
In northern Devon, vaccinations are taking place at GP-led centres in Barnstaple and Holsworthy as well as North Devon District Hospital.
The site at Barnstaple Leisure Centre, which is capable of vaccinating a similar number of people to the large-scale Vaccination Centres, can be scaled up as further supplies come in, with around 8,000 vaccinations expected over the next week.
Two pharmacy sites are also delivering vaccinations to northern Devon residents.
The Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine, which is easier to transport and store, is also enabling GPs to run day clinics at individual practice sites in northern Devon and across the county, to bring vaccination facilities closer to people in places where the location of the local vaccination centre makes it difficult for people to access it.