Mass vaccinations centre opens in West Midlands as coronavirus death toll rises
A mass vaccination centre has opened up its doors in the West Midlands to help protect the most vulnerable people from Covid-19.
Health leaders have said the site at Millennium Point in Birmingham will see thousands of people protected from the virus.
It comes as England’s chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty warned the next few weeks would be the “most dangerous” of the pandemic - and the death toll in hospitals across the Black Country, Birmingham and Staffordshire reached 5,000.
The centre, on Curzon Street, will carry out 1,200 vaccines per day with the hope of building that up to around 2,500 per day – with around 600 expected to have been carried out yesterday when it opened.
Ken Hughes, from Swindon in South Staffordshire, was among the first four people to receive the vaccine at the centre – having driven there alone.
The 82-year-old, who received a letter from the NHS on Saturday about the appointment, praised members of staff for their reassurance and help.
Mr Hughes said: "I feel really blessed and really powerful because I've seen so much death around me, I've lost so many family members, but now this is available – and it's available for free, and it will make a difference."
It's been very pleasant and I was surprised at how they looked after me.
"I had no problem at all with the vaccine – I don't feel any different.
"Everyone has been very good and they explained it all, step by step, they were wonderful. I feel much more confident now that I've had it as well.
"But I've got to wait – I can still spread it if I have it – so I'm going to be careful for a bit, but it's made me much more confident."
Mr Hughes, who revealed his 79-year-old wife didn't come with him for a jab, added: "She's not old enough yet – she's only 79, flippin' heck."
Endoscopy nurse Olga Leach-Walters, chairwoman of the BME network at the University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust, said it was a "fantastic" experience to be vaccinated.
Ms Leach-Walters, a Royal College of Nursing representative who lives in Halesowen, was one of the first four people to receive the Oxford-Astrazeneca vaccine at the centre.
The 55-year-old said: "I'm really happy because I've been one of the first to receive the Oxford vaccine in Millennium Point in Birmingham.
"I would encourage not only the BME community, but Caucasian people as well because they might be sceptical.
"There's a lot of myths going around – microchips and others – I would urge them to have it because it will make a difference."
Selina Wilson, senior occupational therapist at Moseley Hall Hospital, received the vaccine due to her working on the frontline against the pandemic.
The 46-year-old, from Redditch, said: "I'm exposed to Covid on a day-to-day basis, so I'm at a high risk of catching Covid – and I also want to protect myself in the community.
"The vaccine was absolutely fine and I feel fine. I think people need to have it – the more people have it the more you can get on top of this situation."
Rita Passey, from Redditch, described the experience as "brilliant" after she received the vaccine – and urged everyone to get vaccinated when they can.
The 81-year-old said: "It was absolutely brilliant, no problem at all – I hardly felt it.
"I wanted it just to feel safe and to try and get back to some sort of normal life – and for my children who worry so much about me as well.
"Everyone should have it, they shouldn't be nervous or scared either – everyone should have it because we all need it."
Dr Peter Ingham, the recently-retired chairman at NHS Birmingham and Solihull Clinical Commissioning Group, said he was "massively proud" of the effort.
He said: "I'm so proud of everyone. We're moving ahead now [in the fight against Covid-19] and it's really a great achievement.
"The pressure is there to get life back to normal and the solution is through vaccinating as much of the community as possible.
"We're focused and we'll be moving down the priority list as we can, so I'm very proud.
"We're using the Oxford-Astrazeneca vaccine – the Pfizer vaccine is an amazing piece of technology, but it needs to be kept frozen and needs a lot of work. We will keep that at the hospital sites.
"We're only just starting to do the Oxford vaccine which is a little bit easier – but still complex.
"It still needs to be kept safe which is what we're doing."
Dr Ingham said the plan was to get everyone vaccinated with the first jab and then spreading out the dates for the follow-up – in line with national guidance.
Staff were recruited from the NEC and Birmingham Airport who had been furloughed, along with retired nurses, who are helping to get the centre up and running.
Lead nurse Helen Gyves said people in the long-run would be given a QR code – or a bar-code – which will help them speed up the process.
She said the side effects of the vaccine were similar to the flu, with people called on to do what they would do normally to treat the cold.
And after the vaccine, people are asked to wait 15 minutes before driving – the same with any vaccine, she added.
Health Secretary praises city
Meanwhile the Health Secretary has praised people in Wolverhampton over the rollout of community testing in the city.
Speaking in the House of Commons Matt Hancock MP said people in the city had “come together to deliver community testing in an incredibly impressive way”.
He hailed the work of the city’s first rapid testing site, the Sedgley Street Gurdwara.
He said it had brought together leaders from different faiths to ensure testing ran smoothly.
Mr Hancock was responding to a question from Wolverhampton South West MP Stuart Anderson. Mr Anderson had highlighted the scheme at the temple as well as the Jamia Masjid Mosque testing site in the city.
Conservative MP Mr Anderson said: “We are seeing the communities coming together to provide lateral flow testing to find Covid-19.
“I want to thank everyone in the community that has been helping during these difficult times. We can defeat Covid-19 together. Even if you are asymptomatic, please still get tested.”