Scottish health minister Jeane Freeman said last week that in Scotland, vaccination of care home residents - the group idenfied by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) as the top priority - would start from 14 December.
The Westminster government has yet to confirm when vaccination of care home residents will start in England - but a senior GP involved in rolling out the COVID-19 vaccination campaign has told GPonline that GP-led vaccination sites in the first wave set to start from next week could administer some vaccines in care homes.
GPonline reported earlier this week that GP practices could deliver around 273,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccine in the week beginning 14 December, with around 280 sites expected to start administering the vaccine in the first wave, with more to follow in subsequent weeks.
Care home residents
Expectations that the rollout to care homes could be imminent comes as guidance published by NHS England to help practices set up first-wave vaccination sites confirmed that these locations will be supplied with 'items designed for roving vaccinations (e.g. care home residents)'.
Meanwhile, speaking on the BBC's Today programme, NHS England national medical director Professor Stephen Powis said vaccination of care home residents would start 'within the next few weeks' - and when pressed confirmed he expected this to be before Christmas.
As recently as 4 December, a letter from social care minister Helen Whateley said: 'We are working with the NHS on how we may be able to vaccinate care home residents with the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine at their care home but given the practical challenges we cannot set out the details for this yet.'
Challenges around delivery of the vaccine relate to the need to store the vaccine at around -70oC, and then to use all 975 doses per pack within 3.5 days once defrosted and kept in a fridge.
The DHSC has now confirmed that 'sites with the necessary MHRA licence can split the vaccine packs' - and LMCs have been told that stocks of the vaccine can be 'moved sites up to twice in any 12-hour period, once thawed'.
Although it is 'still preferable not to move it', an update published by Wessex LMCs said the vaccine is 'suitable to be transported undiluted and used in a care home'.
Wessex LMCs chief executive Dr Nigel Watson - also the clinical lead in Hampshire for the COVID-19 vaccine campaign - said: 'First-wave sites could vaccinate some patients in care homes.'
He said practices were awaiting confirmation on how this should be carried out, but pointed out that a large number of older patients in some areas were in care homes. In his own town in the New Forest there were around 3,000 people over 80, with around 400 in care homes, he said.
NHS England confirmed today that a 90-year-old woman in Coventry, Margaret Keenan, had become the first person in the world to receive a dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine outside of a clinical trial, as 50 hospital hubs across England began to roll out the UK vaccination campaign.