Published: 16:45, 26 February 2021
| Updated: 17:00, 26 February 2021
A hospital has opened a clinic for members of the public to book a Covid vaccination as efforts to roll out jabs continue to step up.
The first patients arrived at Medway Maritime Hospital today after booking slots opened earlier this week.
The clinic is capable of hosting 1,200 vaccine slots every weekend and will be open on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.
Appointments are open to people invited to book by the NHS who are eligible under the government's priority criteria and is available via the national NHS booking system.
Residents who have been sent a vaccination letter or who are in the patient cohorts currently being offered a vaccine can visit the hospital in Gillingham.
The service is fully booked for its opening weekend.
Amanda Ballard, vaccinator in the vaccination hub at Medway Maritime Hospital, said: "I was very excited to come to work today. We’ve been working towards becoming a vaccination hub for a little while, so it’s very exciting to be here today to get it all going."
She encouraged members of the public who may feel nervous about the vaccine to "come on down", adding: "Have a chat with us. Let’s get you vaccinated. Let’s get back to the real world."
One of the first patients, Susan Still, 60, said she had doubts but was convinced after speaking to her son, who has had the virus.
She said: "I felt a bit dubious and I wasn’t sure whether to have it done. But my son, who has had Covid, I was talking to him last week and he said ‘Mum, get it done, because it is not nice’.
"I’ve got asthma as well, so he swayed me.
“It was fine. Amanda was brilliant.
"I’m halfway there now aren’t I? I’m sure it’s going to get to the stage where they say you can’t fly unless you’ve had the vaccination – and my holiday has already been changed twice."
Plans were first revealed last month to include the hospital as part of the expansion of community vaccinations for the Towns.
The hospital had previously been offering vaccines to vulnerable eligible patients visiting or staying at the hospital and NHS staff.
The expansion to the wider community at the hospital will complement GP and pharmacy-run vaccinations and the mass vaccination hub in Gravesend which is open to patients from Medway.
An announcement confirming the site of a mass vaccination hub dedicated to Medway is expected next week, Kelly Tolhurst MP told KentOnline this week.
The centre in the Towns will become the fifth large-scale vaccine site in Kent following sites already up and running in Gravesend, Folkestone, Tonbridge and Ramsgate.
James Devine, chief executive of Medway NHS Foundation Trust, said: "It’s a privilege that our hospital can provide this important service to our local community as a key vaccination centre for the Medway area, and play a further part in fighting the pandemic through the government’s vaccination programme.
“If you have been sent a vaccination invitation letter, or are eligible under the current vaccination criteria, you can now book an appointment at Medway Maritime Hospital for your first Covid-19 vaccine.
“The Covid-19 vaccination will not only reduce the risk of you catching the virus, but will also minimise the risk of more serious complications should you catch it in the future.
"This is a vital step in protecting yourself, you friends and your families and help the country return to normal after the challenges of the last year. Please do arrange to be vaccinated when you are eligible to receive your jab.”
Figures published by the British Medical Association (BMA) today show 28% of patients currently in critical care for Covid-19 are from the black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) communities.
This is a substantially higher number compared to the overall population.
Dr Victor Oguntolu, diabetes and endocrinology consultant at Medway NHS Trust, said it was vital for BAME residents to come forward and take up the vaccine.
"This is a very important message for everyone but especially those from the BAME community.
"We all know and have seen the devastating effect of Covid among our community. People from the BAME group are at increased risk of several illness and death if they contract Covid-19.
"The only way to keep ourselves safe from the devastating effect of this virus is through vaccination.
"There has been a lot of reluctance among our community about this vaccine as a result of misconception and misinformation about what is contained in this vaccine.
"To clarify and to reassure you, the vaccine does not contain alcohol, pork product or fetal matter.
"Clinical trials for the vaccine have demonstrated they are relatively safe among all ethnic groups.
"I have taken the vaccine myself and so have lots of my colleagues from the BAME community. Please take this vaccine when it is offered to you. It is the only way you can keep yourself, your family, your community and your nation safe."
Increasing capacity for vaccinations across Medway will be vital after latest data revealed the area has the lowest vaccination rate in Kent.
A total of 63,269 jabs have been issued to Medway residents – the most in Kent – but at 22.8% of the total population, it is the lowest rate in the county.
Across Kent, more than half a million people have now received their first dose of the vaccine.
The total of 508,563 people vaccinated in Kent up to February 21 is equal to 27.3% of the population – but this also includes under 18s currently not eligible under the vaccination programme.
Official population estimates by the Office of National Statistics show there are just under 1.5 million adults and over 16s in Kent and Medway with about 1 million people on the waiting list.
In the four weeks between January 24 and Feburary 21, 334,879 people were vaccinated with their first dose – an average of 83,719 people per week.
At that rate, it would take a further 82 days from February 21 to vaccinate all adults in the county by mid-May. The government has set a target of the end of July.
The challenge facing the NHS will be to ensure vaccine supplies can be maintained to continue the rate achieved in the past month.