Aneet Kapoor had not slept a wink when he arrived at Whalley Range cricket and tennis club at 7am on Thursday. “It was the excitement that kept me awake,” said the pharmacist, who has spent the last six weeks working dawn to dusk to turn the clubhouse into south Manchester’s latest vaccination centre. “I just couldn’t wait to start.”
Around 200 people had been booked in for their first Covid jabs, adding to the 4.6 million UK citizens who have received at least one dose. One of them was Kapoor’s 79-year-old father, Sunil, a former market trader described by his son as “the Asian version of Del Boy”. The extended Kapoor family cannot wait to hug again: they live in three houses within 300 yards of each other and have missed their Friday night dinners.
Kapoor had the honour of injecting his father with 0.5ml of the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab. “It was an emotional moment. It’s been a very difficult year. I live very close to my dad, only a few doors away, but at some points over the last 10 months it’s felt like we’ve lived 4,000 miles away,” he said. “It feels now like there’s light at the end of the tunnel.”
Almost half of residents in Whalley Range are from black or minority ethnic backgrounds, largely of Pakistani, Indian or Caribbean heritage. Vaccine scepticism is high, with misinformation spread on social media by religious influencers and Covid sceptics.
“Naturally there is apprehension in the community. A lot of things in social media don’t always help,” said Kapoor, who had commissioned a videographer to make a short film on Thursday documenting the vaccination process for his nervous customers. False rumours have spread that the vaccine is not halal and contains pork or other animal extracts. “We’ve been able to reassure them that isn’t true.”
Despite Whalley Range’s multicultural mix, Sunil was the only person of colour to be vaccinated in the first few hours of Thursday morning. Many of those who turned up lived 10 miles away or more, with one 79-year-old driving from Lymm, half an hour’s drive away in Cheshire. Kapoor’s brother Maneet welcomed them all as “vaccine heroes”, and a volunteer rang an old school bell each time a newly inoculated patient emerged from the clubhouse.
Margaret Dooley, 73, was thrilled to be there: “When I got the text yesterday I was jumping up and down. I got on the phone and told everybody: ‘I’ve had the invitation!’”
Dooley, who used to run a bridal shop, desperately wants to hold her grandchildren. One was born a few days into the first national lockdown and another in October. Rosie, her eldest grandchild, is four, and they miss each other terribly.
It has been a very tough time, with her daughter contracting Covid shortly before giving birth. Having been in contact with her, Dooley had to isolate for a fortnight, and she regrets not having been able to help more. “I managed, but the worst bit was not being able to help my daughter. I feel like crying now, remembering how I would FaceTime her and she was saying ‘I can’t breathe’.”
William Coulburn, 83, a retired engineer, has also had a hard lockdown. He lives with his 76-year-old sister, who broke her neck in May. He is looking forward to life returning to normal. “It’s been a bit boring at times,” he said. “The television have been playing more repeats than you can shake a stick at. Normally I go to the library a lot but with that shut all I really have is the TV.”
Albert Taylor, 77, a retired train driver from Marple in Stockport, said he felt “tickety-boo” to have been vaccinated,. His gammy knee, a legacy of years of running marathons, was giving him much more pain than the jab, he said.
He was looking forward to getting back to the pub, complaining that at the moment “you can’t go fishing, can’t go out for a pint”. To tide him over, his son had turned his camper van into a speakeasy. “We’ve been having a drink in there until they get it all sorted out.”
Not everyone being vaccinated in Whalley Range was over 70. Three pharmacists from around Greater Manchester were among the first visitors on Thursday, including one 26-year-old. They qualify for vaccines as frontline health and social care workers.
Karen Eaton, 58, has worked in a pharmacy in Baguley throughout the pandemic and has felt vulnerable at times. “We’ve had customers come in when they shouldn’t have, while they were waiting for test results, and then we’ve had to do quite a few deep cleans. Then there are the customers who won’t wear a mask.”
For Peter Marks, one of five pharmacists delivering the jabs on Thursday, it was a big day. He had a photo on his phone of his first patient punching the air after receiving her jab. “It was lovely. I feel like I am part of making history.”