Watch CBS News

How an 800-year-old cathedral became a mass COVID vaccination site in England

COVID vaccines in unusual venues
Mass vaccinations in movie theaters, cathedrals and other venues closed during lockdown 04:03

For eight centuries, the cathedral in Salisbury, England, has soared over the faithful. Now, it's hosting the hopeful, like 85-year-old Daphne Morant, who recently joined more than 1,000 others getting vaccinated here against COVID-19 in a single day.

When people enter, they register and get seated at a booth. Because the cathedral is so spacious, 12 people can be vaccinated at the same time. They are then monitored for adverse reactions.

"I didn't feel a thing," Morant told CBS News' Roxana Saberi after getting her shot. "Except it's cold, you know, when you're waiting. That's the only thing I can say!"

As they wait at safe social distances, they relax to the organ music of Bach and Handel. David Halls, the Salisbury Cathedral music director, said, "Don't forget, they haven't heard live music for months!"

A thousand people received the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccination in one day at a site opened inside Salisbury Cathedral in England.  CBS News

It is an unusual place to treat patients. But Dr. Michele Giorgi said it's ideal for administering large numbers of the Pfizer vaccine, which spoils fast at room temperature.

"It allows us to adapt the space for what we need in terms of vaccinations, observation areas, and exits," Giorgi said. In addition, the cathedral is at a central location: "Everyone knows where it is. It's not hard to find."

The United Kingdom has now vaccinated more than six million people. That gives it the third-highest per capita vaccination rate among major countries (behind Israel and the United Arab Emirates).

Across the U.K., other sites shut down by the lockdown have been transformed into venues for mass vaccinations, with people lining up at horse-racing tracks, a rugby stadium, and a cinema. "Pity a film's not put on, ha ha!" said one woman who was vaccinated.

Officials say almost a tenth of the population has already received the first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.

Other countries are also setting up makeshift mega-sites in unconventional locations, like a food court in Moscow, a museum in Beijing, and beside the iconic "Christ the Redeemer" statue in Rio de Janeiro.

Israel, which leads the world in per capita vaccinations, now injects up to 7,000 people a day at the historic Rabin Square in Tel Aviv.  "Not only is it a communal feeling and they may see their neighbors here, but also there's just a feeling of celebration," explained municipality spokesman Eytan Halon.

But in the European Union, vaccinations at hubs like an ice rink in Berlin have stalled following a shortage of vaccines.

In the U.K., too, officials are expecting delays in deliveries this week, threatening plans to give around 15 million people a dose by the middle of February.

Saberi asked Dr. Giorgi, "Is it going fast enough?" 

"It's never going fast enough," he replied.

As for those who have already rolled up their sleeves, they hope this is a move toward more freedom.  "I'll see my son and my daughter again, and that will be nice!" said one woman.  

Despite the progress in mass vaccinations, Britain is still grappling with a more contagious variant of the virus. Officials are now considering tougher restrictions, like tighter border controls and keeping schools closed until Easter.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.