Kingston University supports GPs and health centres to dispense borough’s first Covid-19 vaccinations

Kingston University has teamed up with local GPs and medical centres to offer a base for some of the borough’s most vulnerable residents to receive coronavirus vaccinations.

A temporary Covid-19 vaccination centre, based in the University’s Health Centre at its Penrhyn Road campus, has become one of the first in the capital to offer the Pfizer BioNTech jab. The arrangement gives medical practices in Kingston a central hub to distribute the vaccine to the highest risk groups in the community, starting with patients in the over-80 age bracket.

The University has also provided staff and student volunteers to help the process run as smoothly as possible, car parking spaces for patients and two breakout rooms where those receiving the vaccine can be observed by healthcare workers for a short time after they have received their immunisation.

Almost 1,000 patients over the age of 80 are set to receive the vaccination at the centre this week, with each of them set to return in three weeks’ time for a booster shot.

One of the first to take up the offer of vaccination was 87-year-old Alan Burdis, from Kingston, who was eagerly anticipating the freedom the jab would eventually bring. “I was so excited when I got the call inviting me down to the centre. It gives me huge reassurance and is a massive relief after such a tough year,” he said.

Co-Clinical Director of the Kingston Primary Care Network Dr Richard Van Mellaerts, a GP at the University’s partner Fairhill Medical Practice, said he felt proud that his surgery was one of the first in the country to dispense the vaccine. “We have seen across the world how Covid-19 affects people. It’s not like the flu or a normal virus – it is very contagious and dangerous, particularly to the elderly, so we’re keen to get everybody vaccinated as soon as we possibly can,” he said.

 Also joining the queue on the first day of the vaccination roll out was 81-year-old Freda Jordan, from Kingston, who used to work as a cleaner at the University 50 years ago. She said she was delighted to be back on campus to receive the vaccination at a place she knew so well. “It’s lovely to come back to the University after all this time. It’s certainly changed a lot since I was here,” she said. “I’m very happy to have the vaccine. It’s important people do take it up if they are offered as we all want to get back to normal life,” she said.

These views were echoed by Dr Van Mellaerts, who stressed it was also important people continued to follow government guidelines and safety measures until everyone had been vaccinated. “If you do get invited to get immunised, please do so,” he urged. “The vaccine has gone through all the regulatory checks and this has been done carefully and safely.

“In the meantime, it’s also really important that everyone keeps being sensible and following the hands, face and space messaging. This will not only keep us all fit and healthy but will prevent others from getting ill as well,” he said.

The launch of the vaccination centre comes just weeks after the University opened a Covid-19 testing centre to offer free, rapid tests to students and staff not displaying any symptoms of coronavirus. Both initiatives have come as a result of key partnerships between the University, Kingston Council, Kingston Hospital and a network of healthcare providers across the borough.

The University’s Director of Public Affairs and Insight, Jen Edwards, said the relationships between the partners had been further strengthened by close collaboration throughout the pandemic and had enabled both centres to be set up efficiently and effectively in very tight timeframes. “We’ve been working with Kingston Council and our local health partners since the pandemic first emerged. When Fairhill Medical Practice reached out to discuss how we could support them in rolling out the vaccine to the most vulnerable in our community, we were more than happy to help in any way we could,” she explained.

“It was amazing to see so many of the borough’s oldest residents getting their first dose of the vaccine and our work with the local GPs has allowed this to be done in a way that helped the patients feel as safe and secure as possible while being immunised.”

Dr Van Mellaerts also paid tribute to the partnership work that allowed the vaccine programme to get off the ground. “This was an incredibly complex project to bring to fruition, but Kingston University has been fantastic in allowing us the use of its site and providing volunteers and security to help,” he said. “We couldn’t have achieved this without its support. The launch of the vaccination programme has been an incredible community effort.”