Harrogate’s Great Yorkshire Showground vaccine site can carry out up to 1,800 vaccinations a day.
The site, which opened its doors on December 22, is among four centres which are currently offering vaccines to people in the district.
In an interview with the Stray Ferret, Dr Chris Preece, a GP partner in Boroughbridge and Knaresborough and clinical director of the Knaresborough and Rural District Primary Care Network, said he spent the weeks leading up to Christmas working on the blueprints for the centre.
He said the site had slowly cranked up its numbers, but added there was “a lot more work to do” to vaccinate everyone.
Discussions about the site started in late November after GPs were told they would need to set up vaccination centres.
Seventeen GP practices in the district and the Yorkshire Health Network, the federation of GPs, came together to look for a suitable venue to carry out vaccinations.
Officials scouted sites in Harrogate, Ripon and Knaresborough including halls, swimming pools and supermarkets.
They settled on the showground because of its size and the need to keep batches of the Pfizer vaccine refrigerated on site.
Dr Preece and his colleagues spent weeks drawing up protocols, job descriptions and plans for how the site would look.
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While others were out Christmas shopping, the team were mapping out and drawing chalk lines on the floor of the hall to mark where dividers would be placed.
Dr Preece said:
“I slept like I’ve never slept before on Christmas Day, because it was my first day off for a month.
“It was a lot of work building it up to that. We were in here [the hall] in whatever the weather getting it all ready and sorted out.”
‘A small army of volunteers’
The site runs on hundreds of staff and volunteers who have given up their time to help with what has been described as the biggest vaccination programme in British history.
GP surgeries from all over the district send staff to the site every day on a rota system.
Some clinical staff have come out of retirement to help with the vaccine effort.
Alongside the doctors and nurses is a “small army of marshals” who help to signpost people into the car park and into the centre.
Dr Preece said the vaccination centre would not have been able to operate well without them.
“All the voluntary organisations have all come together to help marshal this which has been incredibly useful, I don’t quite know how we would done it without them.
“We are very grateful to them.”
Ramping up vaccinations
While the centre runs on the availability of vaccines, it can give up to 1,800 vaccinations a day at maximum capacity.
It’s taken time for the numbers to reach those levels, Dr Preece said, and is dependent on the supply they have.
“The maximum is about 1,800 now, so we’ve got really big numbers coming through when it’s going at full capacity.
“We are driven by how many vaccines we have got available to us at any one time.
“So, we can have 1,800 in here and 600 in a day at Ripon. We’ve got a good number coming through.”
Alongside the centre, clinical staff started to vaccinate care homes in January after batches of the Oxford-Astrazeneca vaccine arrived. In one weekend, 50 homes were vaccinated.
Last week, surgeries also paid visits to those that are housebound.
As the site presses ahead with first doses, those requiring their second vaccine will begin to filter through gradually.
Dr Preece said he expects it will offer “more work in the short term” as they overlap with first doses.
“Again, it depends on vaccine supply how quickly we can do it.”
Meanwhile, Amanda Bloor, accountable officer at North Yorkshire CCG, told journalists at a press briefing earlier this week that 175,000 first doses have been carried out in North Yorkshire and York so far.
While the numbers continue to increase, health bosses are still urging those over-70 who have not had the vaccine to come forward.
More work to do, but a sense of optimism
As the year goes on, the centre will continue to make its way down the age cohorts until everyone is offered the vaccine.
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Dr Preece said the operation is the biggest undertaking of his 18-year career and joked that it was like “putting on the Olympics after a village fete”.
However, he said he was still optimistic about the future but added there was still more work to be done.
“We have done those first four cohorts of people and we’ve managed to do that on time and on target, which is incredibly pleasing.
“It does give me some optimism and some hope for where we go next with this.
“There is still a lot of work to go, we’ve got all of those to do twice and all the other groups yet to come.
“So, we can’t sit back and relax yet unfortunately. But it is still looking optimistic at the moment.”