GPs have revealed that limited supplies of COVID-19 vaccine have forced local clinics to operate at well below maximum capacity - leaving some questioning the rollout of 10 further mass vaccination centres this week.
The government has said that by 17 January 1,684,673 people aged over 80 had received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine, representing 59% of the nearly 2.9m people in this age group.
But BMA GP committee chair Dr Richard Vautrey has argued that more supplies should be directed to local GP-led sites, which are better suited to deliver vaccines to those in the first eligible cohorts.
Downing Street has admitted repeatedly that supply remains the 'rate limiting factor' for the COVID-19 vaccination campaign, which aims to complete 15m jabs by mid-February UK-wide. However, GPs have questioned the logic of opening mass vaccination centres which take vaccine supply away from primary care - slowing efforts to jab vulnerable patients on their doorsteps.
Dr Vautrey said GP-led sites delivering the vast bulk of jabs were being let down by unreliable and insufficient deliveries, while supplies to mass vaccination centres appeared ‘more consistent’. He said: ‘It is frustrating for practices who are ready and able to deliver vaccines, to see these centres opening and in receipt of consistent supplies of vaccine, when their own deliveries are so unreliable.
‘Furthermore, the way in which patients have been invited to the centres – with no co-ordination with local practices – is causing significant confusion among patients. These are some of the most at-risk people in our communities and would prefer to have their vaccination at their nearest GP-led site, rather than having to travel miles to a mass vaccination centre – and in many cases it will be safer to do so.
He added: ‘GP-led teams are far better placed to offer vaccinations to their patients locally, particularly those in the current highest risk groups – and many have proven their proficiency in recent weeks – so it makes perfect sense to ramp up supplies to general practice when there are lists of these patients waiting. This is something we continue to raise with NHS England.’
Dr Vautrey called for the government to provide clarity about what supplies are available and justification for where they are being directed to correct the slow-down in the number of vaccines being given to patients in the last week.
NHS England announced this week that some practices would receive no supply for next week commencing 25 January to tackle 'geographical inequality' where uptake rates were lagging behind. It also said a lack of forward planning about deliveries was due to a 'high volatile' delivery schedule.
At the beginning of the month GPs warned that the launch of mass vaccination centres had created confusion among patients, with people receiving multiple invitations to get their first jab. Some GPs have since labelled the mass vaccinations a political stunt.
But NHS England chief executive Sir Simon Stevens recently backed the mass vaccination hubs, insisting that they would be used as a tool to ensure ‘maximum uptake and coverage’.