First patients receive Covid jabs at Norfolk's new mass vaccination centre
- Credit: Danielle Booden
Norfolk's role in the coronavirus vaccination programme has stepped up a gear after its first mass vaccination centre began welcoming patients.
Hundreds from across the county descended upon Castle Quarter on Monday, as the Norwich shopping centre's food court found a new purpose.
Some of society's most senior and vulnerable began receiving appointment letters towards the end of last week, offering them a life-saving jab.
Those currently being invited to Castle Quarter are aged 80 and above, and must live within a 45-minute drive.
The food court - usually occupied by fast food outlets - was almost unrecognisable as patients were efficiently welcomed, registered and vaccinated.
Among them was Don Edwards, who travelled to the city from Old Buckenham, near Attleborough.
The 86-year-old was full of praise for his experience at Castle Quarter - and the staff for their tireless efforts.
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"I'm well impressed", he said. "It's free, they look after you and I just think 'aren't we lucky'.
"I received a letter about three days ago, and I just rang up, got the appointment and it has gone beautifully. I feel so lucky to have had it done.
"It was odd coming through the mall and seeing all the shutters down, and the place quiet. There was one good thing though - the parking!
"I've really missed social gatherings - seeing my friends and having a glass of wine with them. But I'm sure it's just round the corner."
Margaret Burman, 82, was another to receive her vaccination, on Monday afternoon.
She and her husband "couldn't believe our eyes" when an appointment letter arrived at their Poringland home on Saturday - telling them to come in two days' time.
Looking back on the last year, Mrs Burman added: "I've had some very bad days, but I manage to pull myself out of it.
"I do miss not being able to do things, but I'm sure everybody is like that. We couldn't have Christmas with our family, but we have had Zoom meetings so we've managed.
"I don't as if I've got much time left and I'm really annoyed a year has been wasted. It has made us realise we took a lot of things for granted.
"I'm amazed at how well-organised it has been today, and it's only going to get better."
Castle Quarter is one of 10 large-scale sites across the country which have been added to the immunisation programme from this week.
The centre provides an additional option to the local vaccination hubs which began operating in Norfolk and Waveney last month.
They include the area's three main hospitals, as well as 21 GP practices and community buildings.
Last week it was revealed health bosses intend to launch a total of 13 large centres across Norfolk and Waveney in the coming weeks and months.
As Castle Quarter joined the nationwide effort, centre manager Robert Bradley said it had long been in the pipeline.
He explained: "We've been offering the council space throughout to the pandemic, saying 'can we help in any way?'
"They then came to us and said 'would you have space for a mass vaccination centre?', and we had the perfect space.
"It meant we had to negotiate with the usual tenants in the food court, so their leases have been paused and we're really grateful to them.
"It has taken two or three months to set up and we are so proud to be a part of it. This programme is what's going to bring us back to normal and, as a shopping centre, that's exactly what we need."
One of the oldest at the mall on Monday was 97-year-old Audrey Burton, who confessed she had "not been too worried" by the virus.
"So long as I've got a book to read, a word search and a bit of television, I'm happy," said Mrs Burton, from Thorpe St Andrew.
"What I have missed is going out for meals and getting close to grandchildren and great-grandchildren," she added.
"Once we found the place everything ran completely smoothly - it was wonderful."
And new data published by NHS England shows 424,135 jabs have been administered in the East of England.