Practices are to begin administering the homegrown Oxford COVID-19 vaccine today amid concern about the ability of the NHS to meet the logistical challenge of getting doses to the frontline on time.
The announcement followed successful hospital trials of the vaccine – as GP leaders warned that practices were facing erratic deliveries, leading to clinics being cancelled. Some 180 practices will be conducting vaccination this week, it was reported. There is also to be a pilot scheme involving local pharmacies. The government announced plans for seven major vaccination “hubs” to begin work next week, including the Excel Centre in London – formerly a Nightingale Hospital – and Millennium Point in Birmingham.
The Times quotes Dr Simon Bradley, from the Concord Medical Centre, Bristol, as saying “We were due to get the first batch on December 22 but at the last minute it was cancelled. Luckily we were cautious and had not booked people in but many practices had patients booked in and had to cancel them. The suggestion from politicians is there is lots of vaccine around but on the ground it feels there is an issue with supply.” Dr Mohammed Jiva, GP chairman of the Rochdale Health Alliance, said that a thousand doses due for this weekend would not arrive, leading to appointments being rearranged.
Dr Richard Vautrey, chair of the British Medical Association GP committee, said it was “crucial that practices are given greater certainty over delivery dates, which then do not change, and as much notice as possible of any potential delays so they can effectively mitigate the impact of rescheduling patients last minute.”
NHS medical director for primary care Dr Nikki Kanani said: “The biggest vaccination programme in NHS history is already off to a strong start with around one million people already vaccinated against Coronavirus – this is a credit to our exceptional NHS staff. GPs, nurses, pharmacists and countless other staff and volunteers have been working around the clock to be able to launch almost 200 more sites this week. Combined with the arrival of the Oxford / AstraZeneca vaccine, we will now be able to protect many more vulnerable people against the virus and faster.”
Practices have been advised to postpone other activities to give priority to the COVID vaccination programme, it was also reported. The Daily Telegraph quoted British Medical Association sources suggesting they should “reprioritise,” suspending non-essential work.
This was confirmed by Royal College of GPs chair Professor Martin Marshall. He said: “The approval of the Oxford/Astra Zeneca vaccine means general practice will play an even greater role in the COVID vaccination programme. This will mean that some workload prioritisation is necessary, focusing on de-prioritising non-essential tasks such as routine health checks, to keep general practice – and in turn the rest of the NHS – sustainable. It’s important that decisions about this are made at a local level, taking into account the needs of local populations, and the RCGP is working with the BMA to develop guidance in this area.”
Patients Association chair Lucy Watson said: “For patients to be confident that the NHS remains open for business it would be helpful for there to be clear messages from NHS England, on practice websites and in the media, about which healthcare activities are being stopped in primary care and which healthcare activities are being continued.”