ST. THOMAS, ONT. -- Southwestern Public Health (SWPH) is getting set to start putting needles in arms by the middle of March.

Before they could do that though, they needed a suitable venue. The St. Thomas location is now set after council approved the use of the Memorial Centre at Monday night's meeting.

"The Memorial Arena has a lot of pluses to make it ideal," says Dr. Joyce Lock, medical officer of health for SWPH.

"It is on a bus route, it has large parking space and a large interior space. It has many qualities to meet our needs."

It didn't take long for contractors to start transforming the venue. There was plenty of work being done inside the facility Tuesday morning. There is no ice in the rink, and it has been set up as an emergency shelter through the pandemic.

"We're a strong community partner with public health," says Wendell Graves, St. Thomas city manager.

"They needed a facility large enough with good parking facilities and that would be available to move a lot of people in a significant amount of time and Memorial seemed to fit the bill. A lot of residents are looking forward to getting that vaccination, so we're happy to work with SWPH to allow them to have access to Memorial Centre for a mass vaccination centre."

St. Thomas Elgin Memorial Arena construction
Work is underway inside the St. Thomas Elgin Memorial Arena in St. Thomas, Ont. on Tuesday, March 2, 2021. (Brent Lale / CTV News)

Graves says expenses to prepare the arena will be passed on to SWPH.

"During this process we will keep track of all the expenses and will be submitting to SWPH," says Graves. "We are not looking it as profitable, just cost recovery at the end of the day."

Lock says discussions with the city have been easy.

"Our municipal partners are neck and neck, and shoulder and shoulder in eagerness and willingness to facilitate effective mass immunization in our community," says Lock.

"We know we are working with a willing partner and trust that the dialogue will end up with best decision possible and for citizens and for our counties."

The city is just providing the facility, and all operations will be done by SWPH.

Graves told council in a report he expects the site could operate 10 hours per day, depending upon the actual supply of the vaccine that is available.

Initially SWPH is requesting the site until Sept. 1, but that date will be flexible depending upon the quantity of vaccine and timeline for distribution.

Currently those eligible for vaccinations in SWPH are getting their shots in London. Lock says the local clinics in St. Thomas (at the Memorial Arena) and another in Woodstock will open March 15.

Goff Hall is among the locations currently being considering by Woodstock city council for a vaccination centre in Oxford County, but no decision has yet been made.

"We are in active planning, we just received our first ultra-low-temperature freezer for our Woodstock site," says Lock.

"St. Thomas Elgin General Hospital has donated an ultra-low-temperature freezer and we will be in receipt of that before long. The ministry has allocated some vaccine specifically to our freezers, so we are cautiously optimistic that somewhere in the middle of March we are able to start around here."