Some GP surgeries in England that were due to start rolling out Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine from today have been told their deliveries will be delayed.
Practices in Kent and Merseyside claim they were informed by health bosses today that the doses won’t arrive until sometime on Tuesday.
Family doctors say the delay means they will have to squeeze in hundreds of patients, who were booked in for a jab today, tomorrow.
The news comes as the number of GP sites that were due to begin vaccinations early this week has plummeted from an expected 280 to just over 100 – with NHS England declining to provide an explanation.
The vaccination clinics will operate from doctors’ surgeries or community hubs in villages, towns and cities.
Meanwhile, care home residents in Scotland started receiving the vaccine for the first time from today.
NHS staff including nurses and pharmacists will work alongside GPs to inoculate those aged 80 and over, as well as care home workers and residents.
Margaret Keating, 88, receives the Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine at the Abercorn House Care Home in Hamilton, Scotland
Annie Innes, 90, is also given the jab by a nurse at the Scottish care home
Healthcare workers carrying a bag containing Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccinations as they arrive at Abercorn this morning
The vaccination clinics will operate from doctors’ surgeries or community hubs in villages, towns and cities
Professor Martin Marshall, chairman of the Royal College of GPs, said: ‘GPs and our teams are about to embark on an enormous challenge, delivering the Covid-19 vaccination programme in the community whilst also delivering the expanded flu vaccine programme and the usual care and services our patients rely on us for.’
The opening of the community centres comes after dozens of hospital hubs began offering vaccinations from last Tuesday.
The NHS will contact people in the priority groups when it is their turn to receive the vaccine.
Dr Nikki Kanani, practising GP and NHS Director of Primary Care, said: ‘GPs, nurses, pharmacists and other primary care staff are eager to play their part in protecting people against coronavirus.
‘This is the greatest vaccination programme ever undertaken by the NHS and, to help vaccinate people safely we will be working with local communities to deliver it in convenient and familiar settings.
‘As a GP I am proud to be part of this huge national effort to protect our patients against the virus and I would urge the public to come forward when they are called up for the vaccine.’
The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine is the only one currently approved for use in the UK but the chances of the University of Oxford’s Covid-19 vaccine also being rolled out by the end of this year are ‘pretty high’, according to lead researcher Sarah Gilbert, who is professor of vaccinology at the university.
The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) is still reviewing trial data for the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab.
Prof Gilbert said it is possible that life could be ‘more or less’ back to normal by next summer – but said it depends on transmission rates in January which she said could be affected by people travelling and mixing with others over Christmas.
Restrictions are due to be relaxed across the UK between December 23 and 27 to allow families to spend time together in ‘Christmas bubbles’ but NHS bosses have warned Prime Minister Boris Johnson that any relaxation of restrictions in England’s tier system could trigger a third wave of cases at the busiest time of the year for hospitals.
Prof Gilbert said the US has seen a surge in infections and deaths after people celebrated Thanksgiving, adding that a similar rise in the UK could also affect the vaccination roll-out.
‘It’s not possible to run vaccination clinics when staff are off sick, and there’s a very high transmission rate affecting people’s ability to come to be vaccinated.’
The first review of England’s tier allocation is due take place on Wednesday and NHS Providers, which represents hospital trusts in England, has urged ‘extreme caution’ in moving any area of the country to a lower tier while areas should be moved into the highest tier of restrictions ‘as soon as this is needed, without any delay’.
A Government spokeswoman said ministers will not ‘hesitate to take necessary actions to protect local communities’.
Meanwhile, schools in Greenwich have been asked to close from Monday evening and switch to online learning following ‘exponential growth’ of coronavirus in the south east London borough.
In a letter to parents on Sunday, council leader Danny Thorpe said he had asked schools to close as Greenwich’s infection rate was at its highest point since March.
In Wales, secondary schools and colleges will move to online learning from Monday following advice from the Welsh chief medical officer that the public health situation in the country is ‘deteriorating’.