Only ‘hospital hubs’ will be able to administer the Pfizer Covid vaccine in the first instance, the Department of Health and Social Care has said.
Meanwhile, health secretary Matt Hancock told the House of Commons that GPs will only be part of the ‘second’ stage of the Covid vaccine deployment.
They said this is due to the nature of the Pfizer/BioNTech Covid vaccine, which was approved for UK use by the MHRA today, and the logistical challenges this presents.
A press release from the Government said: ‘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.’
And health secretary Matt Hancock told the House of Commons in a statement this afternoon: ‘While we will begin vaccination next week, the bulk of the vaccinations will be in the new year…
‘First, we will begin vaccination in hospital hubs. Second, we will deploy through local community services, including GPs and in due course pharmacies too.
‘And, third, we will stand up vaccination centres in conference centres and sports venues, to vaccinate large numbers of people as more vaccines come on stream.’
BMA GP committee chair Dr Richard Vautrey called on the Government and NHS England to provide clarity on ‘how exactly practices will be involved’ in the first phase of delivery ‘given the much-publicised practical restraints around storage and transportation’ of the Pfizer vaccine.
He said: ‘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.’
But Dr Vautrey reiterated that GPs, practice nurses and support staff ‘will play a pivotal role’ in vaccinating the public ‘in the coming months’.
A BMA spokesperson added: ‘It looks like in the first instance this will be delivered in hospitals, and we’re awaiting clarification on what general practice’s role will be in delivering this specific vaccine.’
RCGP chair Professor Martin Marshall said: ‘Given the logistical challenges around delivery and storage associated with the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, it is likely the focus of its delivery will be in hospital hubs and mass vaccination centres. However, we’re awaiting details of this and how it will work – including if and how general practice will be involved, even if not directly delivering this particular vaccine.
‘General practice will, of course, play a key role in delivering future vaccines that are more suitable for delivery at a community level – as we hope the Oxford vaccine will be, if it is approved for use by the regulators – and we’ve been preparing for this as best we can with the details we have.’
Earlier today, the Welsh Government said it ‘will not be possible’ to vaccinate care home residents with the Pfizer Covid vaccine due to practical constraints.
The UK Government has yet to declare it will not be possible to get the Pfizer vaccine into care homes, but today Boris Johnson and the JCVI both admitted there were ‘logistical problems’ that need to be overcome to achieve this.
The Government’s press release said that there ‘will need to be flexibility in terms of operational challenges around delivery of the vaccine to those in care homes’.
The DHSC reiterated that ‘every effort will be made to supply vaccine and offer vaccinations to care home residents’, with the vaccine to be delivered ‘according to clinical prioritisation and operational necessity.’
DHSC told Pulse to approach NHS England for clarification of what this means for the GP vaccine effort and timelines. Pulse has asked NHS England to supply the clarification.
The health secretary also told the Commons that ‘following authorisation, the next stage is to test each batch of the vaccine for safety’, adding: ‘I can confirm that batch testing has been completed this morning for the first deployment of 800,000 doses of the vaccine.’