IT WAS an exciting day at Okehampton Medical Centre on Tuesday when the first vaccines were given to local people over 80.

The combined effort to vaccinate 975 people has been a joint effort by staff at the medical centre, the heath centres in Chagford and Moretonhampstead and Blake House Surgery in Black Torrington.

Okehampton Community Hospital provided car parking and a shuttle bus was laid on by the Okehampton and District Community Transport to transport people from the hospital car park to the practice. Extra parking was also provided at the police station opposite the medical centre.

Meanwhile, staff came out of retirement to help their colleagues run the programme, which continued yesterday and today.

Okehampton Medical Centre practice manager Kiran Bakhshi on Tuesday praised the huge collective effort on what she said had been a ‘whirlwind’ of a day.

The practice was among eight sites across Devon chosen by the NHS Devon Clinical Commissioning Group to give the first vaccines to local people over 80 in time for Christmas.

‘It has all been very exciting,’ she said. ‘We didn’t want to not be a part of it and we didn’t want our patients to miss out. Once the vaccine was here they didn’t waste any time in getting it out and wanted to make it available to vulnerable people. It has been a whirlwind and a massive team effort between the practice and the organisations around us with people willing to go the extra mile. We have called in retired members of staff to join us. To be part of this has been really special, a good moment in 2020. Everyone has been so willing to help.’

The vaccine available has been shared equally between patients in the four practices. They will be asked to return for their second dose in three weeks’ time.

Elsewhere in Devon, a function room, a conference centre and even a tennis centre were pressed into service to act as sites for these first vaccinations of local people. The Riviera International Centre in Torquay, Exmough Tennis and Fitness Centre and The Staddy function centre in Plymouth have all been commandeered to give the life-saving vaccinations.

Darryn Allcorn, lead chief nurse at the Devon CCG, said: ‘We’re working seven days a week to make sure eligible people in Devon a vital vaccine as soon as possible. As a nurse I am proud to be part of this huge national effort to protect our patients against the virus and I would urge people in Devon to come forward when they are called up for the vaccine.

‘I can reassure everyone that the NHS will be in touch with you when it’s your turn to have the vaccine. Contacting your local hospital or practice only slows us down as it takes up precious time and resources to respond to the calls.’

The Devon CCG says more local vaccination centres run by GPs will open in coming weeks across the county.