A coronavirus vaccination hub set up in Aston Villa’s Holte End has welcomed its first patients – with club staff pitching in to help NHS workers.
It is hoped the new centre, expected to administer around 1,500 doses per day with capacity to scale up subject to demand and vaccine availability, will play a key role in the programme in the Birmingham area.
Speaking against a backdrop of empty seats around the stadium, Villa’s chief executive Christian Purslow said: “I am very, very proud and privileged that today we have opened here at Villa Park a vaccination centre.
“This club’s been at the heart of our community for nearly 150 years and serving the community to the best of our ability and I think today, at this terrible time for all, providing a convenient venue to provide vaccinations is the best possible use of our football club.”
Explaining what preparations had taken place before the hub’s opening, Mr Purslow said: “We have a very close working relationship with the NHS in the West Midlands.
“For the last six months actually we have been running pre- and postnatal NHS classes here at Villa Park because space is under great pressure within our hospitals.
“So this has been a really good use of what would otherwise be, as you can see, a terribly empty football stadium at the time of the pandemic.
“I think 700 people have been vaccinated today and from tomorrow they move up to 12 hours a day, 30 lanes and maybe 2,000 people a day being done in our facility, which will obviously make a huge dent in the numbers in the coming weeks and months.”
Mr Purslow added: “A number of our staff have volunteered. A number of staff in other industries locally, who have suffered from redundancies and/or furloughing, are taking the opportunity to volunteer and work.
“So it’s very much a joint effort between frontline NHS staff and other volunteers.”
Inderjit Singh, chief pharmacist at University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust, stressed that vaccination could be taken up by people without compromising their moral or religious beliefs.
The chief pharmacist added: “We wanted to ensure we had our vaccination centres across all different areas of the borough, and this one is crucial to us in terms of the large demographic area… and to ensure we can reach out to ethnic minorities that do live very close to this ground.
“They are very safe vaccines and the key thing I must express to everyone is that there is no animal product within these vaccines at all.”
Vaccination is by appointment only, catering for members of the public and health and social care workers who have been contacted by the NHS.
The centre will open seven days a week, including matchdays while Villa’s home fixtures are still being played behind closed doors.