The vaccination centre at Elland Road will be the 'game-changer' so we can hug loved ones again
The opening up of a COVID-19 vaccination centre at Leeds United's ground to the public will be a "game-changer" in getting back to normality, according to city health chiefs.
The centenary pavilion at Elland Road opened its doors to the public today with the first patients taking up the vaccine coming through the doors at 7.30am.
The site has been operating as a hospital hub for the past two weeks to support vaccination of frontline health and care workers but early morning and over-night snowfall did not deter those in the over 70s category who had had their invitations through the national booking system as part of the public roll-out at Elland Road.
Among them was Mewa Singh Khala, aged 72.
He said: "My son drove me down here. I am really glad, I have been looking forward to this for ages - for my own health and for the family. I was surprised by how many were guiding you, you just can’t go wrong really.
"I did not feel a thing. I have heard some people that don’t want to get it done but we have got a duty and a responsibility for ourselves and everybody else.”
Maureen and Stuart Mitson, aged 72 and 73, travelled to Elland Road from Woodlesford as it meant they could have their first dose of AstraZeneca sooner than waiting for an appointment closer to home.
They told the Yorkshire Evening Post that all they wanted was a family get together again.
They said: "Elland Road is somewhere everyone knows, it is a huge facility and hopefully they will get thousands through here. It has been wonderful. There is a lot of parking which is a real concern to people of our age but it has been super.
"We have curtailed our life through choice, we have just not gone out, we just did not want to catch it. We have isolated ourselves more than the requirements. Our family has been amazing, they have been doing shopping for us but kept their distance. The family is what we have missed the most, hearing the children playing and laughing in the house, kids are fun and it is the family time we want back. Like they have said, ‘they want more Christmasses' so if we have to forego one, it does not matter, we will look forward to the rest.
"We have done our best and touch wood, we have been okay so far."
There is capacity to vaccinate 9,200 people per week at Elland Road currently and, as the programme moves down the priority list, it is expected that number will increase with the demographic.
At The Centenary Pavilion there are reams of staff and volunteers manning the centre from the army, to nurses working on their days off to Leeds United's match day security staff.
It took just weeks to turn it from a party and function venue into one of 23 vaccination centres in Leeds, and it will work alongside services provided by community pharmacists, NHS trusts and 19 GP practice networks which have already administered tens of thousands of vaccines to people at the greatest risk from Covid-19.
It is set to be in place until the end of March but its requirement can be extended depending on the speed of the vaccination roll-out.
Sam Prince is the executive director of operations for Leeds Community Healthcare.
She said: "Just before Christmas we walked in but it was just a shell with a carpet and thought 'how will that work?'. From concept to building and being ready it was four weeks. We set up the Thackray on December 8 and looked at every part of the journey, how we could make it more efficient and an experience for people. People have not been out of the house for nearly a year, we want it to feel safe and welcoming, they will tell friends and family they had a good experience and encourage them to take up the vaccine.
"It is a privilege to be doing it. It has been challenging in many ways because we have had to move so quickly but it has been one of the most joyful and rewarding things that I have done. It is very rare that you manage a whole programme where everyone wants to be involved.”
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