Military personnel have begun to set up a mass vaccination centre at a football and rugby stadium in Bristol, while a major test of the practicalities of public vaccination has been successfully carried out in Wales.
Members of the armed services were spotted at the Ashton Gate stadium in the city, working from first light until after dusk on Monday preparing the site.
As soon as a vaccine is approved, the plan is to use part of the stadium, home to Bristol City FC and the Bristol Bears rugby team, to administer it to thousands of people from the city and from the neighbouring areas of North Somerset and South Gloucestershire.
NHS chiefs refused to give any details of plans for the site, but Bristol city council confirmed “The work at Ashton Gate is being coordinated by the army in preparation for the NHS-led vaccination programme.”
The council said it was providing public health advice and guidance but the project was being led by the local NHS clinical commissioning group.
During an interview on BBC 1’s Politics Live, the mayor of Bristol, Marvin Rees, added: “The aim is that we are ready for anything that comes along that allows us to work for the safety of our population, so we will make sure that everything that we’ve got is in place.”
Rising cases in the south-west of England, which until now has avoided the worst of the Covid crisis, has resulted in Bristol, South Gloucestershire and North Somerset being put into tier 3 after the English lockdown ends this week.
Boris Johnson said on Monday that, with luck, a vaccine could be available within a few weeks. The prime minister was speaking during a visit to the base of pharmaceutical company Wockhardt UK in Wrexham, north Wales, where he said he hoped the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine will be produced.
Johnson said: “This could – could, if we’re lucky, if everything goes right – be available just in a few weeks. This could – and I stress could – really be the salvation for humanity, these vaccines, not just this one but obviously all the vaccines that are currently being developed.”
Details of how the Ashton Gate operation will work were set out in a report to directors of a local health board on Friday.
The report said the immunisation programme was to be delivered via mass vaccination centres (MVCs), community sites and a “roving model” for care homes and the housebound.
It anticipated delivering 75,000 to 110,000 vaccinations per week to residents of Bristol and the two neighbouring local authority areas starting as early as 7 December and lasting until April next year.
Vaccinations are expected to be given 12 hours a day, seven days a week and £2.3m has been allocated to support the workforce and sites. The report warned it was a “complex and evolving programme”.
It is understood that personnel from all three armed forces are to be involved in setting up and helping to operate the Ashton Gate site and others like it, and the football and rugby teams will continue to play at the stadium because the concourse can be sealed off from the rest of the ground.
It is believed that other sport stadiums and venues in other parts of the country may be used as vaccination sites, with Cheltenham racecourse in Gloucestershire and Epsom in Surrey both thought to be preparing to help.
Such sites have the advantage of wide open spaces that can easily be converted, with good car parking and access. It is thought there will be dozens of MVCs.
Asked about the preparations taking place at Ashton Gate, the prime minister’s spokesperson said only that details would be set out “in due course.”
The NHS in Wales, meanwhile, has carried out a “large and successful test” of practical matters that need to be in place once a vaccine is given the go ahead.
The Welsh first minister, Mark Drakeford, told a press conference in Cardiff on Monday: “That could be as early as this week and we will be ready for it.”