Hundreds of thousands of people aged 80 and over are being invited to book a coronavirus vaccination at the new NHS vaccination centres that open this week.
The first 130,000 letters began arriving on doormats this weekend with more than 500,000 following this week, with the national vaccination programme “rapidly accelerating”.
The letters have been sent to people aged 80 or over who live 30 to 45 minutes drive from one of the seven new sites and explain how they can book a slot – over the phone or online through the national booking service.
The centres, which include one at the site of the London Nightingale Hospital and Manchester’s Etihad Stadium, offer a convenient alternative to GP and hospital services and can each deliver thousands of vaccinations every week.
Nurses, doctors, physios and other NHS staff working nearby are also being jabbed at the centres, along with social care and care home workers.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said: “With covid cases at record levels and a tragic number of people losing their lives to this vicious disease, we are once again asking everyone to stay at home in order to stop its spread and protect our NHS.
“Our plan is to vaccinate as many people as possible across the entire United Kingdom as quickly as we can. And with more than 1,000 vaccination sites across the country, including seven new mass vaccination centres, we will help protect hundreds of thousands of vulnerable people over the coming weeks as we accelerate towards offering 12 million people the jab in England by the middle of February.
“There are deeply challenging weeks ahead, but today signals another significant step forward in the race to protect the public, and defeat the virus.”
NHS national medical director Professor Stephen Powis said: “The coronavirus vaccination programme, the largest in NHS history, has got off to a strong start.
“With more vaccine supplies now coming on stream we are rapidly accelerating the programme and these large scale NHS vaccination centres are an important new way for people to get the life-saving jab, alongside our GP and hospital services.
“NHS staff are under huge pressure with big rises in coronavirus infections leaving record numbers needing hospital treatment but are still pull out all the stops to deliver Covid jabs as swiftly as we can.”
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: “Through our vaccine delivery plan we have already provided a first dose to more than 1.2 million people in England and we are mobilising the government, NHS and the armed forces as part of a massive national effort.
“The vaccination centres are an important milestone and will help accelerate the rollout further.
“They will work hand in hand with GPs, pharmacies, hospitals and care homes to offer vaccines to everyone in the top four priority cohorts, saving thousands of lives and helping us start to return to normal in the future.”
One vaccination centre will open in each of the seven NHS regions this week with many more expected to be up and running by the end of the month.
The first seven sites are:
- Ashton Gate in Bristol (South West)
- Epsom racecourse in Surrey (South East)
- Excel Centre in London (London)
- The Centre for Life in Newcastle upon Tyne (North East and Yorkshire)
- Etihad Tennis Club in Manchester (North West)
- Robertson House in Stevenage (East of England)
- Millennium Point in Birmingham (Midlands)
The initial sites were chosen from those ready to vaccinate large numbers of people quickly to give a geographical spread covering as many people as possible.
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.
The invitations to attend are being issued to people aged 80 or over who are not listed as having been vaccinated at a hospital or GP service.
If they have 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.
Those like care home residents who are unable to travel to vaccine centres, hospitals or GP-led sites are already being jabbed at home.
People who book in to a vaccine centre will be greeted by volunteers who will marshal carparks and register them when they arrive. Bookings are staggered to allow social distancing.
They will receive a health status check and a pre-vaccination assessment before they have their jab and then be observed for 15 minutes. The process should take well under an hour.
There are already almost 1,000 vaccination sites across the country.
The vast majority, almost 800, are GP-led services and they are expected to deliver most of the vaccinations.
The seven new centres are due to open alongside almost 200 new GP-services and more hospital services this week.
Hundreds of pharmacy-led services will also deliver vaccinations as supplies become available with a handful of pilot sites starting this week.
More than 80,000 people have trained to deliver the vaccines and will be deployed as supplies allow the programme to expand.
They include current and former NHS staff, clinicians from the independent sector and allied health professionals like physios, among others.
There will also be three volunteer roles staffed by St John at vaccination centres: fully trained vaccinators, post vaccination observers and patient advocates.
As well as these volunteers, NHS Responders, coordinated by the Royal Voluntary Service, will also be providing volunteers to be stewards who will play a crucial role in helping people throughout their visit to the centres.
As with other vaccination services people should wait to be invited by the NHS.
It will not be possible to use the NHS Covid-19 Vaccination Booking Service if you have not received an invitation letter. Doing so risks someone who has not being able to get through and book their appointment.
It will also not be possible to get a vaccine at a Vaccination Centre or Community Pharmacy without an appointment. Doing so risks disrupting the work of NHS staff in protecting those at highest risk.
The NHS made history when Maggie Keenan became the first person in the world to be protected against coronavirus outside of a clinical trial when she received the Pfizer vaccine at Coventry Hospital on the 8 December.
The NHS was also the first health system to deliver the new Oxford AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine when Brian Pinker, 82, was jabbed last Monday.
The Oxford vaccine has now been rolled out to GP-led services and is much easier to transport and get to care home residents.
The NHS is giving GPs an extra £10 for every care home resident that they vaccinate this month as part of a drive to protect them.
NHS staff are also being prioritised now that more vaccine is coming on stream.
The two groups were deemed top priorities, along with over 80s, by the government following advice from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI).