One year on: a volunteer reflects on a year at the Bedford Heights vaccine centre


Twelve months after the first vaccine centre opened in Bedford, one of its volunteers reflects on the last year…

You could cut through the tension in the air.

But it was hardly surprising.

Britain was in the midst of its worst pandemic for a hundred years, death tallies were horrifying, hospitals stretched to breaking point.

Now the fightback was on. It’s February 2021, 10am and the Pure gym at Manton Lane, Bedford has been turned into a mass vaccination centre.

Nhs staff and hardy volunteers queued to take the previously little known lateral flow tests, hoping a negative result would allow them to join the battle against Covid.

People queued in wind, hail, sleet, snow and sub-zero temperatures to get the potentially life-saving vaccine. For months folk, yet to be eligible, pleaded for the jab, desperate to have some immunity. The despair at being turned away was often something else.

The wave of ‘thank yous’ were overwhelming, some people cried with relief after having their jab. At the peak, around 900 flocked to the centre daily.

Queues often stretched 100 yards or more – and when a fire broke out on the roof few left, desperately wanting to make sure they got ‘it’.

Fast forward 12 months. The centre is like the Marie Celeste. On my afternoon volunteer session, there are more staff and helpers than bookings or walk-ins. The flood has turned into a drought.

The tension of last February has evaporated, replaced by frustration. The population of Bedford seem to think it’s all over.

It’s not! It really isn’t.

Bedford has flirted around the top ten towns and cities in England for covid cases for some time, though happily numbers now seem to be dropping, albeit there’s still far too many.

According to government statistics, three out of 10 eligible people in Queens Park have yet to have a first jab, four out of 10 a second while just under 30% have had a booster. In Bedford borough overall only half have had a booster.

Apathy is running deep.

Staff and volunteers alike, many of whom have been there since day one, are bemused at how mad panic has quickly changed to indifference.

For now, though, they live in hope the queues and clamour of last year will return. They are ready and waiting for you…

NB: Manton Lane is open daily from 8.30-6pm for bookings and walk-ins.

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