Professor Mike Holmes, who leads York’s largest Covid vaccination centre on the former Askham Bar Park & Ride site, begins a new regular column in The Press today:

“There is no doubt that 2020 has been a difficult year for everyone around the world. The suffering we have seen at the hands of the coronavirus pandemic has put our regular lives in perspective.

Professionally it has been the most challenging year in my career and I am certainly not alone there. As we move into 2021 we find ourselves in lockdown again and we see the number of people affected by this virus increasing but, this time, there is hope.

We have a vaccine that can help us protect those vulnerable to coronavirus, that will prevent people losing their lives and move us closer to a time when we can live with the freedoms we are so used to enjoying.

Amongst all the challenges that coronavirus has brought, there are certainly positives to be found. One such positive is the way in which people and organisations have been willing to work together to support each other and our local communities.

People have been worried and anxious about what is happening, or what could happen. But I have witnessed first-hand an increase in empathy – an increase in understanding and a desire to support and help.

The launch of local vaccination services has been a real example of this. It is something that we, as York people, should be immensely proud of.

People have collaborated and negotiated, broken down barriers and worked though the cold winter’s nights to get this working. I have personally seen staff make huge sacrifices, give up days off and work until they have done what was needed. Furthermore we have been overwhelmed by those who want to volunteer to be part of this.

As a GP, seeing how General Practice in York has worked together to vaccinate patients has been heart-warming. And they’re not doing this alone.

There has been a real collaborative effort with the local NHS, City of York Council, Community Pharmacy, St Leonard’s Hospice and many local businesses. Our Hospital Trust in York, which has done an amazing job throughout the pandemic under huge pressure, is also delivering vaccines.

The people attending for their vaccines have also been incredibly supportive and understanding – vaccine supply has been a challenge and there have been some false starts.

For me, this is the key: the whole community working together, supporting each other, understanding the challenges and focusing on the goal of vaccinating our population as quickly as we can.

In the Vale of York NHS area we now have five sites and, as of today, we have 32 sites live across the Humber, Coast and Vale region which operate on behalf of Primary Care Networks (PCNs) – groups of local GP practices working together. The Government has also just announced seven new mass vaccination centres opening across the country and more will be opening soon - so watch this space.

In the City of York the GPs are working together to run the vaccination centre at the old Askham Bar Park and Ride site and you may have seen this develop over recent weeks as it has started to vaccinate York people.

Please try not to worry, everyone who is eligible will get vaccinated – no one will be excluded from the vaccination programme so please be patient. When it’s your turn, you will be notified. The services will very quickly be increasing the numbers they can vaccinate and more capacity will be developed very soon to protect health and social care staff and other key worker groups. To date we have vaccinated over 10,000 people in the City of York and we are well on our way to vaccinating all of our care home residents. We have made a phenomenal start and our pledge is that we will keep building momentum and we will not let you down.

There is a huge task ahead of us all over the next few months. If we work through the challenges, support each other and focus on why we’re doing this, there’s no doubt we will get through and protect our population from coronavirus.”