Vaccine centre shake-up in Walthamstow, Leyton and Leytonstone

Walthamstow Library Covid-19 Vaccination Centre (Credit: Jon Attenborough)

Walthamstow Library and Chingford sites open, as queues attract attention on social media. Meanwhile, new Leyton/Leytonstone sites are announced following fury over Oliver Road centre’s closure…

Two new vaccination centres have opened in Waltham Forest – following upset and a U-turn over the closure of Leyton’s Oliver Road vaccination site in early March.

The new sites at Walthamstow Library and Chingford Leisure Centre opened officially on Tuesday 16th March.

The library, which is in Walthamstow Town Square, received a £1.5million refurbishment during the pandemic. Vaccinations are carried out in 12 ‘pods’ located in the main hall, while key library services continue in the building’s event space (with a separate entrance).

Walthamstow Library’s key focus will be vaccinating high risk adults aged 16 to 65, and unpaid adult carers, then offering second doses to elderly and other priority groups. Chingford Leisure Centre, meanwhile, will be focused on giving jabs to priority groups five to seven.

Walthamstow Library (Credit: Jon Attenborough)

Speaking on Walthamstow Library’s opening day as a centre, Councillor Naheed Asghar, Cabinet Member for Health and Voluntary Sector Partnerships, said:

“The operation itself is really good, seems very smooth. Waiting times and the patient experience is quite important as well, not just administering the jab. From the point the patient joins the queue, to exiting the building, it has to be as comfortable as possible. And I think this building lends itself very well to that.”

In the days following its opening, numerous complaints emerged on social media about the “chaos” of long queues outside the Walthamstow centre – plus a lengthy wait time, which one resident on Twitter said lasted “over an hour”.

In response, the CCG wrote on Twitter: “Queues at Walthamstow Library vaccination centre today. Please help us by not turning up early for your appointment… If you arrive without an appointment you will not be seen.”

As of Wednesday 31st March, more than 80,000 in Waltham Forest had received the Covid-19 jab – up from the 65,000 reported on the opening day of Walthamstow Library’s centre.

But what’s happening with vaccinations in Leyton and Leytonstone?

Despite the opening of Walthamstow and Chingford sites, fury lingered in the borough’s south after the sudden closure of Oliver Road Medical Centre’s vaccination site in Leyton.

But several weeks after closing, on Friday 26th March, Leyton MP John Cryer has revealed on Twitter that the controversial decision appears to have been overturned.

Details have yet to be shared – though it’s understood that it will be the pharmacy at the Oliver Road site delivering jabs, as opposed to the previous set-up.

Waltham Forest CCG has been contacted for comment.

Oliver Road vaccinated approximately 12,000 local residents with their first doses of Pfizer and Oxford AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccines, between early January and its closing date of Wednesday 3rd March.

Its closure sparked backlash from residents and several Oliver Road staff members, who spoke to the Echo on its final day in operation – sharing their fears for Leyton and Leytonstone’s elderly, vulnerable and hesitant population.

Waltham Forest Council then publicly stated that it had offered up a number of local buildings – as possible pop-up venues or a long-term facility – to the CCG.

In a letter to the CCG and NHS England sent on 12th March, Cllr Asghar wrote: “It is clear from the data so far that there has been lower uptake amongst Asian and Black residents.

Oliver Road Medical Centre, Leyton, in early March

“Given that Leyton and Leytonstone have the highest proportion of Black and Minority Ethnic residents in our borough, we believe it is vital that residents in these neighbourhoods are able to attend vaccination sites closer to home.”

And 15 councillors for Leytonstone, Leyton, Cathall, Cann Hall and Forest wards said in a statement provided to the Echo in late March:

“It is hugely disappointing that in Leyton and Leytonstone we have somehow ended up with a ‘Vaccine Access Desert’, despite the repeated offer of buildings, staff, volunteers and logistics support, for this area.

“Recent communications have suggested a range of targeted ‘pop-up’ opportunities and a vaccine-providing pharmacy located in the Leyton and Leytonstone area; however these are the promised crumbs that have been on the table for weeks and weeks now and have still not materialised, despite requests for the roll-out details.

“Ultimately, these crumbs are no substitute when compared to the level of provision that is being rolled out in other Waltham Forest neighbourhoods or for that matter other neighbouring boroughs.”

Waltham Forest residents are urged to take up a vaccine offer (Credit: Jon Attenborough)

It has also been announced that a pop-up vaccination site will soon become available at Leytonstone Library.

Council leader Clare Coghill wrote in a newsletter dated Wednesday 31st March: “I’m very happy to announce that from Thursday this week our most vulnerable residents in the south of the borough will have the opportunity to be vaccinated at Leytonstone Library.

“The council is working in partnership with a mobile vaccination unit that operates from the Excel Centre. The facility will be available to those who are invited to book a vaccination by their GP. The council is currently working to identify and secure more mobile and temporary vaccination facilities throughout the borough.”

It’s understood that both of the upcoming Leyton/Leytonstone sites will be for pre-booked vaccination appointments only, rather than walk-ins.

All Waltham Forest residents are urged to take up an offer of the vaccine when they receive it. If you are 50 or over, or are high risk and have yet to be contacted, nhs.uk says you can now book your vaccine via its website.

This is an updated version of a story in the April print edition of Waltham Forest Echo