Full details of funding and how the COVID vaccination campaign will be rolled out are understood to be due on 6 November - but GPonline understands the BMA's GP committee has voted in favour of a package put forward by NHS England.
BMA GP committee chair Dr Richard Vautrey said GPs and practice teams were 'the right people' to be leading the vaccination campaign - but warned it would be 'a huge undertaking for practices already struggling to cope with the impact of the pandemic, as well as supporting the large number of patients with other healthcare concerns'.
> Full details of the COVID-19 vaccine deal
The BMA has agreed that general practice will be ready to deliver vaccinations from early December - but NHS England has said its 'central expectation' is that one or more of 200-plus potential vaccines currently in development will become available from early next year.
Confirmation that a deal has now been agreed between the BMA and NHS England comes after GPonline reported on 4 November that claims of a deal from NHS officials were premature - after senior GPs said they had yet to be consulted. GPs have also raised concerns over the capacity of general practice to cope with delivering a complicated vaccination campaign on top of existing heavy workload.
Dr Vautrey said the products to be used were 'very complex vaccines' requiring 'special storage conditions' - confirming comments from NHS chief executive Sir Simon Stevens that the vaccines to be used would pose a 'logistical challenge'.
Some of the vaccines that could be used in the vaccination campaign require storage at -70 degrees Celsius and must then be used fairly rapidly once thawed.
Dr Vautrey said delivering the vaccine would likely require 'changes in the way practices operate as they prioritise this vital work for our nation' - but emphasised that general practice would remain open as it has throughout the pandemic.
The BMA confirmed that practices would work together across local areas to deliver vaccinations 'initially with vaccinations taking place at one site - most likely a nominated practice'.
Dr Vautrey said: 'An effective vaccine is a vital tool in defeating the pandemic and preventing further rises in infection levels, and people becoming seriously ill and tragically, in many cases, dying.
'GPs and their teams are uniquely placed to ensure that their communities are properly protected from this deadly virus. And with their proven track record in delivering widespread vaccination campaigns, such as this year’s flu programme, they are absolutely the right people to be leading this Covid vaccination drive.
'But we are under no illusion that this will be an easy task. Not only are these very complex vaccines – for example they need special storage conditions – but a campaign of this scale will be a huge undertaking for practices already struggling to cope with the impact of the pandemic, as well as supporting the large number of patients with other healthcare concerns.
'GPs and their teams want to protect as many of their patients as quickly as possible, doing so safely and focusing on those most in need first. We can only do this with the help and support of local partners, and if everyone is patient and understanding as practices embark on this unprecedented campaign. There must also be clear communication from the government and NHS England, clarifying what patients can expect and when.
'Practices can choose to take part in the programme and NHS England will need to work with us to ensure that suitable arrangements will be made for all eligible patients to be vaccinated and that we have the flexibility necessary to meet local needs.
'The campaign is likely to lead to changes in the way practices operate as they prioritise this vital work for our nation – but to be clear, all GP surgeries are open, as they have been throughout this pandemic. Patients should continue to contact their practice if they have a health concern either on the telephone or online, and whenever it is necessary arrangements for a face-to-face appointment will be made. GPs are here for you and working together we will get through this dreadful pandemic.'
GPs are not expected to deliver all COVID-19 vaccinations that will be administered in England, however. Sir Simon said earlier this week that the NHS would set up 'mass vaccination centres' to administer some vaccine doses, with Nightingale hospital sites and other locations to be brought into play.
The NHS chief executive added that further 'roving teams' would be set up to 'prioritise care homes and social care staff and other vulnerable groups'.
The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) said in September that older adults living in care homes and staff working there would be first to receive COVID-19 vaccinations, with health and social care workers and people over 80 next in line.