Wearside Nightingale vaccination centre: Landmark of the pandemic closes its doors for good

For staff and volunteers at the Nightingale vaccination centre in Washington, it is the end of a chapter.

For the past 15 months, they've been administering the Covid jab, helping to protect tens of thousands of people.

On Thursday 31 March, the centre will close for good.

For vaccinator Diane Lewis, it is a moment to take pride in everything that she and her colleagues have achieved. 

"It's just so special and I think realistically if this vaccine programme hadn't been rolled out, especially here within our North East area, I don't know where we'd be, so credit to everybody," she said.

The site has been associated with the pandemic since the earliest days - it first opened in May 2020 as the Nightingale Hospital North East.

The swiftly constructed wards were designed to offer extra capacity to treat Covid patients at a time of huge pressure on the NHS.

The hospital was not required, and in January 2021, the building re-opened as one of the region's first mass vaccination hubs.

Over the course of the pandemic, many smaller scale clinics have also opened enabling people can get their jabs closer to home.

These include GP-led centres, community pharmacies, pop up clinics and vaccination buses. 

The head of the region's Covid vaccination programme, Professor Neil Watson, says ways of offering the Covid jab have developed.

"The very beginning was about an emergency, it was about getting as many people done who were very vulnerable as quickly as possible," he said.

"Now it's important that we get deep into communities and make sure that we get as many people vaccinated who are perhaps also vulnerable but less accessible, so accessibility has become really important."

While Covid no longer dominate our lives, the push to protect us from the virus is far from ending.

Until the Nightingale closes, it will continue to immunise, including giving people in eligible groups the spring booster, to top up their defences.

While the immunisation programme will continue, it is a poignant time for Colin Fowler, who has been volunteering at the Nightingale from its opening day as a vaccination centre.

"I've only been a very small part in a very big machine but I'm really pleased and the people that I've worked with, we've been here steadily all the way through and we've just helped to smooth the path for a lot of people."