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Two years on: the NHS COVID-19 vaccination programme in Essex and Suffolk

This week marks two years since Essex Partnership University NHS Foundation Trust (EPUT) opened the first COVID-19 vaccination centre in Essex and Suffolk.

Essex and Suffolk’s first large COVID-19 vaccination centre opened at The Lodge, Wickford on 18 January 2021. Since then, EPUT has delivered more than 1.5 million vaccines.

Nigel Leonard, Executive Director of Major Projects and Programmes at EPUT, said: “The COVID-19 pandemic was a difficult time for us all, and it continues to impact us today.

“Our vaccination programme story is an important chapter in local history. It is the story of thousands of local people and organisations, working together in really challenging and uncertain circumstances. But we were united by one common goal: to save lives.”

The story starts in the early days of the programme, when much of the country was still in lockdown. EPUT delivered almost 625,000 vaccinations in just 6 months, opening vaccination centres in well-known locations including the Cliffs Pavilion, Colchester Stadium and Chelmsford Racecourse.

We brought the vaccine closer to our community through outreach clinics for travellers, seafarers, refugees, the homeless community and other vulnerable groups. We delivered vaccines in schools, care homes, people’s homes and launched two Community Vaccination Buses.

None of this would have been possible without the ‘teams behind the scenes’ – the hundreds of unsung heroes from our pharmacy team who faced the complex task of safely managing vaccine supply, to our admin team whose helpline took tens of thousands of calls.

Staff and volunteers also shared their stories and memories from the frontline. Tracey, who worked in the vaccination centre on Chevington Close, Bury St Edmunds, recalled:

“Our first clients were often elderly. Some arrived in their best frocks as this was their first outing for a year. We did our best to make it an occasion too. They told amazing stories, some cried, some laughed, some danced but all were overwhelmingly grateful. We felt we were involved in something extraordinary which would become part of history.”

Many of the staff involved mentioned the contribution volunteers made to the programme. Anna, who worked at the Stowmarket vaccination centre, said:

“I have seen so many occasions where volunteers have gone out of their way to help someone when they are feeling anxious about having the vaccine. We have had so much positive feedback from patients feeling that the volunteers made their visit to the centre a happy experience.”

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