'Be ready to start vaccinating by 14 December', GPs told

5 December 2020, 00:55

GPs must be ready to begin administering the coronavirus vaccine by 14 December
GPs must be ready to begin administering the coronavirus vaccine by 14 December. Picture: PA
Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

GPs must be ready to administer vaccines from 14 December, NHS England and NHS Improvement has said in a letter to surgeries.

Staffing Covid-19 vaccination centres in time for the date is "crucial" for coping with the "scale and complexity" of the immunisation programme, health service chiefs warned.

In a letter delivered to England's primary care networks, NHS England and NHS Improvement warned the rollout is "one of the greatest challenges the NHS has ever faced".

People aged 80 or over will be the first to receive the Pfizer/BioNTech jab provided that their other risk factors, "clinical or otherwise", are taken into account.

The number of vaccination centres in each clinical commissioning group (CCG) area will depend on the number of residents it has who are over 80.

However, CCGs have also been asked to consider inequalities and deprivation - some of the biggest coronavirus risk factors - when selecting sites.

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The letter - signed by Dr Nikita Kanani, medical director for primary care at NHS England and NHS Improvement, and Ed Waller, director of primary care at the same institutions - said each centre will be given the "IT equipment necessary to deliver the programme and a fridge".

It added: "It is crucial we start to activate local vaccination services to allow priority patient cohorts to start accessing the vaccine."

GP surgeries must prepare to administer 975 doses of the shot - which is one full vaccine pack - to priority patients within three-and-a-half days of delivery on 14 December.

Using each dose as soon as possible is imperative for a successful immunisation programme as it is usually stored at -70C.

Once it is moved to the supplied fridges, with temperatures between 2-8C, it will only remain stable and effective for a limited period of time.

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The size of the vaccine packs has posed a significant logistical problem as they will need to be broken up and distributed to key sites such as care homes.

Full details about "wave 1" vaccine supply dates, equipment delivery and the process for assuring readiness will be provided by NHS England and NHS Improvement on Monday, the letter said.

It added that staff at the centres would be provided with training and they will be "given full support to mobilise within the timescale".

Staff working at the first wave of sites will be given login details for the IT system set up to deliver the vaccination programme "as soon as possible".

CCGs were told they must "offer all possible assistance" to the centres as the programme gets under way, including helping them with logistics and setting up clinical waste arrangements.

They were also warned that while urgent care must be provided by GPs even when the vaccine is being delivered, the vaccination programme must be their top priority.

It urged all primary care providers to work together to maximise uptake and minimise wastage.

The letter added that £150 million in funding is available to ensure there are sufficient staff levels and resources for GPs to meet their usual obligations and deliver the vaccine programme.

It finished: "This is a hugely exciting moment for general practice and you who will be playing a key part in this important programme."

Hospitals will be the first venues in England to start administering the jabs, with vaccination ready to start from Tuesday, according to the chief executive of NHS Providers Chris Hopson.

He told BBC Breakfast: "We are identifying in hospitals how many over-80s do we have, either currently receiving treatment inside the hospital or people who are coming in for outpatient appointments."

NHS England said it will issue a list over the weekend detailing which hospitals can start providing the jab.

Meanwhile, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) said it has approved a solution to splitting vaccine packs and getting it into care homes.

Assemblers - a mixture of companies licensed to assemble packs and NHS hospitals with appropriate facilities - will break down the vaccines into smaller batches in special cold rooms at between 2C and 8C.

The process is extremely time-sensitive, with assemblers having just 12 hours to thaw the vials, repack the medicines, label them, and distribute them to the mobile teams delivering to care homes.

Despite elderly care home residents being the highest priority, they will not be first in the queue as manufacturers have to test and validate the assembly process and ensure all staff are thoroughly trained.

The MHRA said: "We have put in place arrangements to support delivery of the vaccine to top priority groups as safely and swiftly as possible.

"Regulatory approvals required to proceed with the splitting up of packs have been put in place.

"We are working with NHS and their assemblers to help support them to implement the processes and training they need to have in place to meet our conditions."

Dr June Raine, chief executive of the MHRA, said she estimated the vaccine would begin to be delivered to care homes "within the next two weeks".

On Friday, she told LBC she would be "first in line" to receive the jab if she could in a bid to reassure those with doubts about getting vaccinated.

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