Healthcare staff including midwives, nursing associates, physiotherapists, paramedics - and potentially even medical students - could be trained to administer vaccinations to help the NHS cope with mass vaccinations this winter, a government consultation published on 28 August reveals.
The government is also exploring the possibility of rolling out an unlicensed vaccine for COVID-19 in the event that this was recommended by advisors on the joint committee on vaccination and immunisation (JCVI) - and for its potential distribution by the army.
Under EU legislation that applies to the UK until December 2020, vaccines have to be authorised through the European Medicines Agency. But as Brexit takes effect from the start of 2021, powers to approve vaccines shift to the UK licensing authority.
The government consultation says: 'If there is a compelling case, on public health grounds, for using a vaccine before it is given a product licence, given the nature of the threat we face, the JCVI may take the very unusual step of advising the UK government to use a tested, unlicensed vaccine against COVID-19, and we need to make sure that the right legislative measures are in place to deal with that scenario.'
The consultation makes clear however, that 'unlicensed does not mean untested', adding that an unlicensed COVID-19 vaccine would only be approved 'if the UK’s licensing authority was satisfied that there is sufficient evidence to demonstrate the safety, quality and efficacy of the vaccine'.
On plans to extend staff groups that can deliver vaccines, the consultations says it is simply seeking to increase options for UK governments as they respond to the demands of delivering large vaccination campaigns.
The consultation says: 'There is a possibility that both the flu vaccine and the COVID-19 vaccine will be delivered at the same time, and we need to make sure that in this scenario there is sufficient workforce to allow for this.'
However, it adds: 'Just because one UK nation might want to train student nurses and doctors to administer COVID-19 vaccines or flu vaccines, that does not mean another UK nation would also want to do it. What the proposals do is give them all the option of doing so within a clear and supportive legal framework.'
Government proposals suggest that 'midwives, nursing associates, operating department practitioners, paramedics, physiotherapists and pharmacists' will be brought into the group that can administer vaccines, with patient group directions also updated to allow for the potential administration of an unlicensed product if needed.