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NEWS: Practice concern grows at vaccine strategy

by in GP Practice Management, News

Some practices could refuse to delay booster doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, it has been revealed. The government yesterday said second doses should be delayed for up to 12 weeks to maximise the number of people getting first doses. It triggered a backlash among medical organisations and GPs, dismayed that many patients already have appointments for booster vaccines.

Over the weekend leading GPs called for the NHS rapidly to improve communication with doctors if it intends to press on with delaying COVID vaccine second doses.

Last week the British Medical Association warned it would support practices who declined to delay booster appointments. The latest concerns were raised amid doubts about the promise that the NHS would be able to vaccinate two million people a week, while Prime Minister Boris Johnson yesterday promised “tens of millions” of doses over the next three months, stating that the target was two million a week.

The Royal College of GPs raised new concerns about red tape preventing volunteers coming out of retirement to help with the programme. Its chair Professor Martin Marshall said: “Recently retired GPs – and other healthcare professionals – signed up in droves to help with efforts to tackle the COVID-19 vaccination programme. These are people with huge amounts of skill and experience to offer, yet in many cases, this valuable resource is being under-utilised. Requiring people to submit more than 20 pieces of documentation, some of which have low relevance to the task they will be doing, and some of which some retired medics and returners to the profession won’t even have, is a deterrent for them getting involved at a time when we need all hands on deck.”

Asked about this, Mr Johnson, speaking on the Andrew Marr programme, said yesterday: “I think it’s absurd and I know that the Health Secretary is taking steps to get rid of that pointless bureaucracy.” He also warned of tougher lockdown rules but failed to support calls for a national lockdown – claiming that “schools are safe in those areas where we are not being driven by the new variant to close them.”

Administration of the Oxford AstraZeneca adenoviral vaccine was due to begin today. So far, a million people have received the first Pfizer mRNA vaccine. The Oxford vaccine will first be administered at a small number of hospitals before being dispatched to practices. The UK yesterday reported 54,990 new cases of infection and 454 new deaths from the COVID-19 virus.

The Doctors’ Association called on the government to involve frontline clinicians in planning the vaccine programme. It said concerns that there was no evidence that a booster dose of the Pfizer mRNA vaccine could be delayed beyond 23 days.

Its GP representative Dr Vinesh Patel said: “There appears to have been little to no involvement with frontline clinicians in making this decision, and subsequently chaos is ensuing. We can see the principle behind the recent CMO and JCVI advice; the priority is to provide some degree of protection for as many as possible. However this is a huge gamble, and one made without the data to back this strategy. Whilst we appreciate the importance of attempting to reduce the mortality, morbidity and current number of cases as soon as possible, we need a clear and coherent strategy that does this based on evidence, including implementing other options to achieve this.” The organisation also questioned whether leaving large numbers of people with limited immunity would aid further mutation of the virus.

In their letter to doctors on New Year’s Eve, the UK’s chief medical officers stated: “We have to follow public health principles and act at speed if we are to beat this pandemic which is running rampant in our communities and we believe the public will understand and thank us for this decisive action. We hope this has your support.”

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