THE public is flocking to the Madejski Stadium – not for matchdays, but for their coronavirus vaccine.
The football stadium has been repurposed as a mass vaccination centre for people who have appointments.
It opened on Monday, February 22, and has the capacity to deliver thousands of jabs every week.
At the moment it is focusing on the 65-69 age group. Once people receive a letter from their GP telling them they can get the first shot, they can book an appointment.
Even though it was its first day, it was already a well-organised machine, set up by the Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust in partnership with Berkshire West Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) and Royal Berkshire Fire and Rescue Service (RBFRS).
The procedure is appointment only and those who have one are asked not to arrive early so that queues don’t build up. Face masks must be worn and hand gel is everywhere.
Marshals in the car park can help those with disabilities, while trained professionals can support those with mental health problems, or with the language barrier.
The route to the centre is well signposted with help on hand should you take a wrong turn.
The Mad Stad’s Voco Reading hotel (the new name for the Millennium Hotel) function room has been repurposed for the vaccination centre, no doubt disappointing those who hoped to be jabbed on the hallowed turf that the Royals play on.
There are a dozen cubicles set up offering complete privacy. Friendly nurses are on hand, wearing face masks and shields, to explain the process, before the vial of the previous vaccine – all the AstraZeneca Oxford vaccine – is transferred from bottle to syringe and then into the arm.
Sadly, no lollipops for well behaved members of the public, but they do get a sticker and their vaccination card filled in before being sent on their way through a separate exit and back to the Mad Stad car park.
If non-essential retail is allowed to reopen soon, then a visit to the Royals Megastore might be on the cards afterwards.
It’s easy and quick and will help the NHS reach the targets for vaccinating all adults at least once by Saturday, July 31.
Among those getting their first shot today was Jean McGuirk.
The 66-year-old from Wokingham said that she found the stadium easy to get to.
“The experience was painless and very easy – the worst part of it was travelling here,” she said.
“The whole process is amazing, so quick and painless which is the most important thing for a lot of people.
“Everybody is so friendly and they make you feel at ease. I’m very happy with today.”
Jess Collins, who works for the NHS’s equipment team in Reading’s Bath Road, was also receiving her vaccination today.
She said the process had gone smoothly.
“It was a quick experience, straight in and out,” she said. “I’m very impressed with centre. From coming in to getting the happy jab, it was really good and very well organised.
“This is going to make a massive difference – the more centres there are, there more opportunities for people to have the vaccine, it’s brilliant.”
John Fletcher, Clinical Director at the Reading Vaccination Hub, said his mission was to ensure people had a “great experience” when they visited.
“They’ve been through a lot of emotions, wondering what it’s all about,” he said.
“We are a conveyor belt, we don’t want to deny that – we’re going to put lots of people through here but we can do that in a compassionate, caring and jolly way.
“Most people don’t even know we’ve put the needle in. They ask, ‘Oh, am I done?’ It’s fantastic.”
Covid Operations Director for Oxford Health, Tehmeena Ajmal said that the Mad Stad was the third vaccination centre that they had set up and it was an incredible feeling seeing it all come together.
“I came here when it was a completely empty room and now we’ve got up to 12 vaccination pods here, we’ve got spaces where people can rest, we’ve got space outside to expand if we need to.
“It just seems to work well.”
She added that her team understood their roles, which in turn made patients happy.
“The atmosphere has been really positive, but that’s something I’ve felt in all the vaccination centres,” she said. “There has been lots of energy, from the staff and the people coming through. They can really see this contributing to us moving out of lockdown eventually.”
The setup meant that the team can process high numbers. Ms Ajmal said: “We can confidently do 3,000 a day here and probably do more if we needed to.
“The stadium is quite easy for people to get to, there’s good parking and there’s good public transport as well.
“We really see that as a big opportunity to get through a large number of people receiving their first and then second vaccinations.
“At the beginning of the year, the idea of getting through 17 million vaccinations by the middle of February seemed like a really big ask, but we got to it.
“We’ve got more vaccination centres available now than we did at the beginning of the year, so it feels really possible to be delivering a vaccine to every adult who has been offered one by the end of July.”
That July date is something for us to hold on to.
As Ms McGuirk said: “There is definitely light at the end of the tunnel now.
“My second vaccination is booking in for May already, so things are looking up.
“I’m very happy.”