Richard Youle, local democracy reporter
Volunteer drivers are preparing to step in to take elderly residents from Llandeilo to a mass vaccination centre 17 miles away.
The Llandeilo Covid-19 Community Group is responding to concerns from people in their 70s who are unable to drive but need to get to the Halliwell Conference Centre on the outskirts of Carmarthen for their first jab.
The venue is being used by Hywel Dda University Health Board to vaccinate 75 to 79-year-olds, while GP surgeries have been administering jabs to those aged 80 and over.
The health board said people aged 70 to 74 and those identified as clinically extremely vulnerable will be contacted by their GP practices to receive their first dose of the vaccine this week.
Richard Wallace, 73, of Llandeilo, said neither he nor his wife were able to drive to Carmarthen.
“I’ve got scarring of the lungs and get very short of breath, and my wife has arthritis,” he said.
Mr Wallace said he had spoken to people in the same position locally. He said they weren’t keen on using public transport and that buses wouldn’t in any case run late enough to cover evening appointments at the centre.
“It is causing a lot of anxiety,” he said.
Mr Wallace said he appreciated the conference centre was a large venue with a car park to match, but he felt it was “ludicrous” for people in Llandeilo and the surrounding area to have to travel there.
“We’ve got facilities in Llandeilo – the Civic Hall, the library, the surgery,” he said.
Llandeilo councillor Edward Thomas has been raising the issue with the health board and has asked if the town’s Meddyfga Teilo could be used for vaccinations.
Health boards have been dealing with huge logistical challenges to roll out the vaccine as quickly and safely as possible. There are six vaccination centres in the Hywel Dda University Board area, which provide space for social distancing.
In a statement on February 2, the health board said GP surgeries lacked supplies of the vaccine to inoculate people in the 75-79 age group.
It added: “The health board is also working closely with community organisations and transport groups to ensure support is given to those who are genuinely struggling to travel to a mass vaccination centre.
“Please contact the health board using the number on your appointment letter if you require assistance with transport.”
Christoph Fischer, of Llandeilo Covid-19 Community Group, said up to 20 volunteer drivers were ready to help out.
Mr Fischer said he has liaised with the health board about what precautions drivers and their one passenger need to take.
“They have assessed the guidelines and approved them,” he said.
“We could start today – it’s a matter of getting the information out there.”
Mr Fischer, who is also a town councillor, said speed was of the essence.
“We just have to do the best we can – we know it’s not ideal to go to a vaccination centre rather than a surgery, but sometimes you have to act really fast.”