GPs unlikely to begin COVID-19 vaccination for 'at least two weeks', says BMA

GP practices are unlikely to receive stocks of COVID-19 vaccine 'for at least another two weeks' and the vaccination campaign will begin in 'full force' early in 2021, the BMA's GP committee chair has said.

BMA GP committee chair Dr Richard Vautrey (Photo: BMA)
BMA GP committee chair Dr Richard Vautrey (Photo: BMA)

Dr Richard Vautrey said MHRA approval for the Pfizer/BioNTech coronavirus vaccine in the UK was a 'significant step towards overcoming COVID-19'.

Approval of the first vaccine comes as NHS England published an enhanced service specification that provides the contractual framework for GPs to deliver a COVID-19 vaccination programme.

Practices have until midnight on 7 December to sign up to the deal, which takes effect from the following day. The enhanced service says designated sites delivering COVID-19 vaccination in each of England's 1,250 primary care network areas will be given at least 10 days notice before delivery of vaccine supplies.

COVID-19 vaccine

Dr Vautrey said: 'Practices have responded rapidly in recent weeks to put in place arrangements so that they are ready to deliver vaccinations once they are made available.

'With regard to the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine specifically, we need clarification and guidance from both NHS England and the government on how exactly practices will be involved in this first phase, given the much-publicised practical restraints around storage and transportation.

'Given these challenges – recognised by the JCVI today - some people may have to wait a little longer for a more stable vaccine to become available, and we’d urge the public to be patient. We don’t expect practices to be getting any vaccines for at least another two weeks and we believe the campaign will begin in full force in the New Year.

'In the coming months, GPs, practice nurses and support staff will play a pivotal role in vaccinating the public, protecting everyone’s health and eventually restoring life to normal.'

Vaccine delivery

In a statement in parliament today, health and social care secretary Matt Hancock said 40m doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine were ordered for delivery over the coming months. He has previously said 10m could be available before the end of 2020. 

He told MPs: 'Following authorisation, the next stage is to test each batch of the vaccine for safety. I can confirm that batch testing has been completed this morning for the first deployment of 800,000 doses of the vaccine. These doses are for the whole UK.'

BMA chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul said: 'Today’s news is most welcome and marks an incredible achievement of modern science, given less than a year ago we hadn’t even heard of COVID-19, never mind a vaccination against it.'

The BMA chair said it was 'hugely important' that health and social care workers were offered 'every opportunity' to be vaccinated - and urged the government and NHS England not to underestimate the challenge of rolling out the vaccination campaign.

Logistical challenge

He said: 'This is the first of several COVID-19 vaccines to be approved for use but it’s also the one that presents the greatest logistical challenges in terms of storage and immunising patients outside a hospital setting. We need to make sure staff have the resources and support in place to turn this scientific breakthrough into an operational success.'

Mr Hancock said today: 'We will deliver according to clinical prioritisation and operational necessity because the need to hold the vaccine at minus-70 makes this vaccine particularly challenging to deploy.'

He said vaccination would begin next week in 'hospital hubs', with deployment through 'local community services, including GPs' to follow. A government statement on deployment of the vaccine says: 'Delivering the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine is complex as it needs to be stored at very cold temperatures and moved carefully, so at first we will only be able to deliver it from “hospital hubs.” Defrosting the vaccine takes a few hours and then additional time is required to prepare the vaccine for administering.'

Mr Hancock has not ruled out vaccinating patients in care homes - identified as the top priority group by the JCVI - with the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, despite the Welsh government announcing today that in 'practical terms at this stage...we cannot deliver this vaccine to care homes'.

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