Thackray Museum of Medicine has become the first UK museum to assist in the rollout of the Covid-19 vaccine, which was given to patients for the first time this week.
Working with Leeds and York Partnership NHS Foundation Trust, the museum has adapted its conference centre into a fully functioning vaccination hub, providing a safe, contained and secure facility for people to receive doses of the historic Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine.
The centre is now open and vaccinations for high priority groups from across Leeds will continue throughout the week. Patients over 80, care home staff and NHS staff who are at risk from coronavirus are among those eligible to receive the vaccine in the first phase of the rollout.
“There are precious moments in our lives when we encounter history in the making,” said the museum’s director, Nat Edwards. “It’s amazing to be able to host part of the world’s first public Covid vaccination programme.
“Just to witness the very best of modern medicine in action alongside the whole history of humanity’s centuries of effort to understand and overcome disease is hard to describe.”
The museum had been due to reopen in the summer following an 18-month, multimillion-pound redevelopment. Due to current Tier 3 restrictions, it has not yet been able to welcome the public back.
“It’s been frustrating for me to see museums closed down in Tier 3 as if they are part of the Covid problem, when I know just how much they can be part of the solution – nothing illustrates that more than hosting a vaccination centre at the Thackray,” Edwards told Museums Journal.
He said working in this way was an opportunity to “give the public an insight into live medical science and to place the big stories of the day into a wider historic context”.
The museum is also in talks to host the third phase trials of another Covid-19 vaccine being developed by the biotechnology firm Novavax and the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR).
The trial is the largest of its kind to take place in the UK so far, and the highest number of volunteers have been recruited from Leeds, where the study is being coordinated by Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust and the University of Leeds.
Chris Twelves, clinical director of the NIHR Leeds Clinical Research Facility, said: “We look forward to working with the Thackray Museum as we follow up with these volunteers. It’s equally exciting to be working with the Thackray Museum to deliver the new Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine to the first 'at risk' individuals in our local communities.
“With this unique museum showcasing the history of medicine and its impact on local people next to St James's University Hospital, it seems particularly appropriate that we are partners in vaccine research and treatment.
“Perhaps when Covid-19 has become part of that history these joint efforts will be showcased in the museum to remind future generations of what we can achieve together.”
Thackray’s role in the vaccination programme is in keeping with its recent redevelopment, which places an emphasis on efforts made to understand and treat viruses; one new gallery, Disease Detectives, charts the discovery of diseases and the human ingenuity used to overcome them.
The museum’s project curator, Laura Sellers, said: “In our galleries you can find out about diseases from the past and how people have worked to prevent and cure them. The coronavirus vaccine represents a notable point in the history of disease and signals further development in vaccinology.”