Posted: 11.01.21 at 15:53 by Stephen Sumner - Local Democracy Reporter
Mass vaccinations get underway from today (January 11) at Bristol’s Ashton Gate – and a major site near Shepton Mallet is set to follow in two weeks’ time.
Bath and West Showground boss Rupert Cox said hosting the facility will provide vital extra income and help to ensure outdoor events can resume later this year at the venue.
Ashton Gate was one of seven mass vaccination centres across the country to open today. The government wants 15 million people vaccinated by mid-February.
Mr Cox, the chief executive of the Royal Bath and West Society, told BBC Radio Bristol: “We got approached by NHS England back in December to ask if we would make our site available for a regional vaccination centre and we jumped at it, not least because it gives us a bit of business – we’ve virtually been closed since last March, with the exception of a couple of small events.
“Significantly for us, the more people that get vaccinated and the healthier our society becomes, the greater chance of some of our wonderful events taking place this summer.
“We’re looking forward to opening up in a couple of weeks’ time. The NHS are there on site now prepping our big showering pavilion and they’re also taking our theatre and lounge to help with training of those that are doing the vaccinations.
“It’s all systems go, except we’re not yet at jabbing people. Everyone should have been ready to go last week.
"There’s already been a bit of slippage in the programme. We are, we assume, in the second tranche of regional vaccination centres.
“We think we’re going on January 24/25, which is in a couple of weeks’ time.”
Mr Cox said the showground had been offered to help with food distribution, testing or to host a pop-up morgue, so he was pleased it was chosen as a vaccination hub.
He said: “It’s good for us to be involved in our community, as we have been since 1965 on that site.
“It’s also good for us financially – we’ve had virtually no income and we’ve lost 40 per cent of the jobs on the showground.
“The nub of it all is that we want the big outdoor events in the West of England to be taking place this summer or certainly into the autumn. The only way of getting that done is to get as many people vaccinated as possible.
“When we had to cancel our show [the Royal Bath and West Show] that’s only the second time since 1852 that that show has been cancelled, with the exception of the war years.
“We have plans to run a show this year on our normal dates in early June but we do have a reserve date. We’re having to keep all options open.”
A statement on the showground’s website says: “There will be a process of booking for vaccinations once the centre at the Bath and West site is live and not an automatic walk in day scheme.
"The general public are advised to wait for more details to be released in due course.”