During my briefing with local stakeholders this week I received the fantastic news that Sevenoaks not only remains on track to meet the national target of administering the first dose of the vaccine to the four most vulnerable groups by mid-February – but will surpass it. This is an incredible achievement. In Sevenoaks, vaccinations commenced five weeks ago and to complete all first doses in this time is testament to the hard work and dedication of our doctors, their staff and all the volunteers who have helped create such a smooth operation.
The rollout has been boosted by the opening of mass vaccination centres locally. In addition to the vaccine hubs, GP surgeries and pharmacies, the constituency now has two mass vaccination centres in close proximity: Tonbridge and Gravesend.
As you will know from previous columns, securing mass vaccination sites in West Kent is something I have been pushing for in recent months. After arranging a meeting with West Kent MPs and Kent Community Health Foundation Trust Chief Executive Paul Bentley, I was delighted the site in Tonbridge became the latest to be approved. Paul and his team have worked immensely hard to secure this so quickly, and my thanks go to all involved.
The Angel Centre in Tonbridge is now open and, like the site already in Gravesend, is open to members of the public who receive a letter from the NHS. People aged over 70 and those who are clinically extremely vulnerable have been invited first and soon they will move onto those aged 65-69. The centre has the capacity to inoculate up to 3,000 people every day and is open seven days a week. Supply will be the constraint on numbers able to be vaccinated, however I will post updates on this when I have them, so please continue to visit my website.
At the end of last month, I visited the asymptomatic COVID testing site at Sevenoaks Bat and Ball Centre, and only have praise for what I saw (all socially distanced of course). The centre was running like clockwork and there was a brilliant air of positivity. Again, this is all thanks to a totally joined-up partnership; this time between the army, the local health and care sector, local government, and volunteers.
For those of you who are unclear, the asymptomatic testing sites are for people who don’t have symptoms but may be unknowingly spreading the virus in the community. There are currently two in the constituency, and I would urge everyone without symptoms to aim to be tested every two weeks if possible; please do book yourself a slot at: https://kcc.healthit.org.uk/covbook/home. You can either visit The Bat and Ball Centre in Sevenoaks, or Swanley Youth Club on St Mary's Road. When paired with the vaccine roll out, it is via these two means that we will return to our normal day-to-day lives as quickly as possible.
The latest COVID data for Sevenoaks shows that up to 4th February we have a case rate of 119.3 per 100,000. While the continued fall is welcome news, our local hospitals remain under pressure – particularly in critical care. They continue to treat more patients than they did under the first peak, meaning the challenges remain very real.
The battle is certainly not over yet, however with thanks to our local health providers and excellent volunteers we are getting closer.