Published: 15:44, 11 March 2021
| Updated: 13:13, 16 March 2021
A new coronavirus mass vaccination has served its first intake of patients in the Medway Towns.
Over recent weeks efforts have made to transform the former DW sports unit in the Pentagon Centre in Chatham into a multi-bay Covid-19 inoculation clinic.
Chatham sports shop becomes Kent's fifth mass vaccine site
Today the facilities were officially opened by the Kent Community Health NHS Foundation Trust (KCHFT), who will run the site.
Speaking at the launch, KCHFT chief pharmacist Ruth Brown, said: "We have been blown away by the support. It has been a real community effort.
"We will take it slow today because we will look and check the flow to ensure we have got it right."
But she went on to add when at "full capacity", expected to be Monday onwards, they would expect to vaccinate upwards of 2,000 people a day.
The over 55s are next in line and should now have received a letter or text inviting them to book a jab. If they are not able to go online, they can call 119 free of charge.
Among those grateful to be receiving their first Covid vaccination was Chatham resident Andrew Malyon, 57.
The Brompton Barracks worker and Chelsea Football Club fan came appropriately dressed for his appointment with a football face mask.
He jumped at the chance to book his appointment online, adding it would give him "peace of mind".
Asked what he was most looking forward to he said: "I'm looking forward to doing all the usual things like socialising, sports events and going out for meals."
But the army accountant, whose partner works at Medway Maritime and has received both her jabs, said most of all he just wanted to meet his mum, from Strood, and give her a hug.
He said: "I've not seen her much in the past year. I haven't hugged her for almost a year.
"I know having the vaccine won't stop me catching it or passing it on but it's hopefully a step towards normality."
Dennis Valentine, 58, also received his vaccination from fourth year medical student Matthew Knight.
The prison governor, who lives in nearby Hempstead, was full of praise for the centre.
He said: “The whole thing ran like clockwork. I think having the vaccine is a personal choice, but like any choice you make it’s better if you make an informed one.
"I would encourage people to do their research, not just believe what they read on social media.”
Pauline Baker, from Maidstone, can’t wait to be able to visit her children and grandchildren again.
“My daughter and daughter-in-law are both NHS nurses working in critical and intensive care, so I’ve hardly been able to see them during the pandemic," said the 56-year-old.
“I have three grandchildren and the youngest ones are just three and one so it’s been really tough on everyone, as I haven’t been able to help out at all.
"Normally I would babysit every other weekend so my son can work. I booked the appointment as soon as I knew it was open for over 55s, I couldn’t wait to get it.”
Medway has a large population and has been one of the hardest hit areas in the country for Covid-19 following the discovery of a mutant variant of the virus.
Among those pleased to see the new mass vaccination centre open was Rochester and Strood MP Kelly Tolhurst, who alongside her fellow Medway MPs Rehman Chishti and Tracey Crouch, campaigned for its opening.
"I'm really really pleased the vaccine centre has opened in Medway," she said.
"We have been pushing for this since the programme started so it is really good to see it is opening today."
Getting the right location for the new hub, which will serve an area with around 280,000 residents, was also crucial, added Ms Tolhurst, explaining it was ideally situated for residents without cars to access via rail and bus links.
The Rochester and Strood MP and her colleagues had been left "frustrated" that the "largest conurbation outside of London" had seen other areas of Kent get mass clinics first.
Despite this she was "confident with the logistics" and that residents can now be assured they would not be left behind in the forthcoming rollout.
KCHFT chief executive Paul Bentley said: “It’s important to remember how much effort goes into every centre and opening five large vaccination centres to protect our communities is a testament to how hard everyone has worked.
“What strikes me is the stories of people as they leave after their vaccination – people who have not left the house for 11 months, have not seen their grandson or granddaughter and who have effectively been trapped by this horrible virus.
“That’s what makes us want to work faster and harder – opening the Medway centre two weeks ahead of schedule is what the KCHFT team is about; protecting people as quickly as we can from this virus and making a difference to people’s lives. And we never underestimate the impact this has.
“Subject to vaccination supply, we will be really ramping up our vaccination programme across Kent and Medway in the coming days and weeks.’’
You can make an appointment by phoning 119 or visiting nhs.uk/covidvaccination if you are in one of the eligible groups.
Appointments are staggered at the centres to allow for social distancing and people are urged not to turn up early to avoid queues.
In line with supply there has been a temporary reduction in the number of appointments available in some of Kent's vaccination centres, including GP clinics and hospitals.
Earlier this month it was reported the vaccine rollout was to slow down before picking up again by mid-March.
More than 580,000 people in Kent and Medway have already received their first dose with the new centre joining 39 local vaccination services, 10 community pharmacies and hospital hubs around the county.