Cornwall: how we set up mass vaccination sites to take pressure off NHS

Cornwall used this winter’s flu vaccination programme, which for the first time involved people aged 50 to 64, to test out the concept of mass vaccination centres.


This is part of a series of case-studies published on 1 April 2021 

  • Cornwall’s public health team took charge of planning and running two vaccination sites for the county during the most recent flu season as pilots for Covid vaccine delivery
  • Building on the success of the programme, both sites are now being used for Covid vaccine delivery in a true multi-agency response with the NHS – with the council providing support and personnel to develop and operate both sites 
  • They can each vaccinate up to 1,600 a day

Local context

Cornwall is home to more than 560,000 people. The unitary council and local NHS work closely as an accredited integrated care system covering Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly.

The close relationship meant the council and NHS organisations have worked closely on rolling out the Covid vaccination programme.

There have been two hospital hubs that have focussed on giving jabs to health and care staff and 16 GP-led local vaccination clinics. These have been supplemented by two mass vaccination sites developed in partnership between the council and NHS.

How Cornwall learnt from the flu campaign

Cornwall used this winter’s flu vaccination programme, which for the first time involved people aged 50 to 64, to test out the concept of mass vaccination centres. 

The council’s public health team took responsibility for sorting out the planning and delivering of the two centres, which worked on a drive-through basis.

The programme proved a success and was used for the Covid vaccine when it started at the turn of the year. The two sites used for the Covid vaccination centres are both showgrounds located in Truro and Wadebridge. They can both deliver 1,600 doses a day.

Advanced Public Health Practitioner Whitney Curry said: “Because of the requirements for monitoring after the Pfizer vaccine we could not operate a drive-through model, but we learnt a lot from the flu campaign about the flow of patients and the storage and organisational needs. It put us in a great position when it came to the Covid vaccine.”

Staffing and running the sites

More than 20 local GP surgeries – around a third of the total in the county - opted into the mass vaccination centres during flu season and this model was built on to deliver Covid vaccinations. 

The NHS has operational and strategic control of the sites, but the council provides support as well as contribution operational staff and some clinical vaccinators.

Cornwall Ambulance Service has been commissioned to lead on operational support at both sites. That includes managing the marshals and being in charge of the infrastructure, including the cold chain for the vaccines and emergency response.

Each centre runs from 8am to 8pm and 15 marshals are needed at all times to manage queues and parking. Half of these are supplied by a private contractor with the other half coming from a pool of volunteers. Meanwhile, the local Age UK branch and Volunteer Cornwall has helped provide transport to the centre for those who are unable to get there.

Dr Curry said: “This is where our close relationship with the voluntary sector has really come in use. We have worked with Cornwall Voluntary Sector Forum to recruit volunteers since flu season and right through to Covid vaccination. Council staff have also helped out.” 

The council allows staff one-day off a year to do voluntary work. We have had over 60 council staff giving up their time – many more than just for that one day as they came back to help in their own time. It has been fantastic to see the enthusiasm to help out.

“We have also worked closely with our local resilience forum and the contractor that supplies the marquees. The weather has been a real challenge – the centres are out in the open and we have had some days when there have been really high winds.

“There are monitors at the site to keep a check on what is happening with the weather. There was one night where a crew slept on site so they could deal with any problems and make sure everything was ready for the morning. So far we have not had to cancel any vaccination appointments because of the weather, which has been great.”

Mass sites vital as rollout progresses

Dr Curry believes the mass vaccination centres will become increasingly important as the programme rolls out to the under 50s. 

She said: “GP surgeries have the option of stepping back so they can concentrate on their day jobs. This is where the mass vaccination centres are going to be needed even more.

“We are looking at whether we can start doing some drive-through appointments. It could work really well for these younger age groups. But obviously it will need to be with the AstraZeneca vaccine as there is still the requirement for patients to be monitored for 15 minutes after the Pfizer one. It could be that we will do a hybrid model and offer both options.

“The mass vaccination centres may also start running some mobile pop-up clinics. We know we have areas with low uptake and so by taking the vaccine out closer to people we could help address this.”