Changes to the Human Medicines Regulations 2012 that took effect last week mean staff such as physios, paramedics and other allied healthcare professionals will be able to vaccinate patients after appropriate training.
The government hopes the measures can 'save thousands of lives' by increasing access to vaccines and supporting rollout of a potential COVID-19 vaccine.
Revisions have also been made to allow the use of a tested, unlicensed vaccine against COVID-19, provided it meets all required safety, quality and effectiveness standards.
A recent government consultation highlighted the need to make sure ‘there is a sufficient workforce’ to deliver flu and COVID-19 vaccines in tandem. Over half the population could be offered the flu vaccine in 2020/21 as part of an expanded campaign.
The government has said it will bring in experienced NHS professionals to support the vaccination plans through the 'NHS Bring Back Scheme', which aims to bring former NHS staff back into the health service, to help limit the impact on GP practices, community services and hospitals.
It said all staff will undergo a robust training programme to ensure patient safety is 'upheld to the highest standards', and insisted that the changes would make it ‘easier and quicker’ for people to access vaccines.
Health and social care secretary Matt Hancock said: ‘These legal changes will help us in doing everything we can to make sure we are ready to roll out a safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine as soon as it has passed clinical trials and undergone rigorous checks by the regulator.’
Powers have also been extended to the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) to authorise temporary supply for any treatment or vaccine needed to respond to a public health need.
This would allow COVID-19 vaccinations to begin without the need to wait for the European Medicines Agency who – up until the end of the transition period in 2021 - would have been the only body able to grant a licence.
MHRA interim chief scientific officer Dr Christian Schneider stressed the preferred deployment route for a COVID-19 vaccine would continue to be ‘through the usual process’.
He said: ‘Patient safety is our top priority. The independent Commission on Human Medicines will advise the UK government on the safety, quality and effectiveness of any potential vaccine. No vaccine will be deployed unless stringent standards have been met through a comprehensive clinical trial programme.
‘But reinforced safeguards are now in place to strengthen the regulatory regime and our ability to protect public health, should temporary authorisations be necessary.’
RCGP guidance recently warned that flu vaccines could take up to twice as long to administer during the 2020/21 cmapaign, stressing that GP practices had 'reduced capacity' due to a backlog of work.