Concerns are growing that mass vaccination may have to slow down, even as the UK gets to grips with passing 100,000 deaths from the COVID-19 pandemic.
The UK’s most successful vaccination region is to face rationing for doses next month because of global shortages, it has been reported. Supplies to the north west will be cut by a third to enable other regions to have priority, the Health Service Journal reported. The region has been conducted 310,000 vaccinations a week but by mid-February this will fall to 200,000, the journal reported. By 24 January the region had vaccinated 12% of its population.
Meanwhile target deadlines for vaccinating care home residents in England have been missed, the journal reported. Primary care networks had been offered financial incentives to complete vaccination by the weekend – but will continue to receive small rewards for undertaking the work this week. NHS England said one of the main delays had been confusion about whether the programme could continue in homes suffering from a COVID-19 outbreak.
A Department of Health spokesperson said: “We are in close contact with all of our vaccine suppliers and remain on track to offer first vaccinations to the top four priority groups by mid-February. As we’ve said, supply is the limiting factor and as the public would expect we’re prioritising those most at risk from this disease across the country. Our approach so far has ensured we’ve vaccinated more people than any country in Europe.”
An NHS England spokesperson added: “The vaccine rollout to care homes has been a massive feat and we pay tribute to adult social care workers and their colleagues in the NHS for enabling this. There are of course challenges, not least the time lag between doses. In addition, we have heard that there is some confusion as to whether GPs can vaccinate care homes with an ‘outbreak’; guidance has been issued around this and we hope that it will no longer be a hold-up to the efficient rollout of the vaccine.”
NHS England chief executive Sir Simon Stevens said last night: “Yes, there is a supply shortage, if there were unlimited vaccines you wouldn’t see Germany in uproar, Italy attempting to sue one of the manufacturers. We have done very well in this country to get the supply we have available to us.”
Prime Minister Boris Johnson expressed condolences after the UK’s death toll from the COVID-19 pandemic passed 100,000. The UK recorded 1,631 new deaths from the pandemic yesterday bringing the national total of recorded cases to 100,162. While infection numbers showed a significant decline from a week earlier, at 22,194, there was no indication yet of the daily death rate falling.
Mr Johnson said: “It is hard to compute the sorrow contained in that grim statistic. The years of life lost, the family gatherings not attended and, for so many relatives, the missed chance even to say goodbye. I offer my deepest condolences to everyone who has lost a loved one: fathers and mothers; brothers and sisters; sons and daughters and the many grandparents who have been taken.”
He added: “In that moment of commemoration, we will celebrate the genius and perseverance of those who discovered the vaccines and the immense national effort – never seen before in our history – which is now underway to distribute them, one that has now seen us immunise over 6.8 million people across the United Kingdom. And when those vaccines have finally freed us from this virus and put us on a path to recovery, we will make sure that we learn the lessons and reflect and prepare.”