GPs should encourage men and those who are obese or working in professions with higher risk from Covid to have their Covid jab, according to JCVI advice issued for the next phase of the programme launched today.
However, these groups will not be prioritised and no alternative to the AstraZeneca vaccine will be offered to the over-30s.
Last night, it was announced that the next phase of the UK’s Covid-19 vaccination programme would launch this week, with all adults in priority cohorts 1-9 offered the jab ahead of the 15 April deadline.
This morning, online bookings via the national booking system have opened to the over-45s, with advice for GPs expected to follow shortly.
The JCVI has now published its advice formally authorising phase two of the vaccine programme, including healthy adults under 50.
All four UK nations have agreed to adopt the JCVI’s recommended approach, the Department of Health and Social Care has confirmed.
The JCVI confirmed that the rollout will follow an age-based approach, starting with those aged 40-49, then 30-39s and finally the 18-29s – justifying the approach by saying a ‘simple’ prioritisation based on age would be rolled out most quickly.
But it said those administering vaccinations should actively reach out to those demographics at higher risk – including a continued focus on ethnic minority groups but also patients who were male, obese or in professions at greater risk from Covid.
The guidance said: ‘Unvaccinated individuals who are at increased risk of severe outcomes from Covid-19 on account of their occupation, male sex, obesity or ethnic background are likely to be vaccinated most rapidly by an operationally simple vaccine strategy.
‘JCVI strongly advises that individuals in these groups promptly take up the offer of vaccination when they are offered, and that deployment teams should utilise their understanding of local health systems and demographics, combined with clear communications and outreach activity, to promote vaccination in these groups.’
However, the JCVI said it ‘strongly advises that priority is given to the deployment of vaccination in the most appropriate manner to promote vaccine uptake in persons from ethnic minority backgrounds who have not yet been vaccinated.’
This could include enabling ‘easy access’ to vaccination sites, engagement with local ethnic minority community leaders and ‘tailored communication’ with local and national coverage, it added.
It said: ‘As appropriate, these efforts should consider a longer-term view beyond the current Covid-19 mass vaccination programme and seek to address inequalities which already exist across the wider immunisation programme.’
With regards to concerns for extremely rare blood clots following vaccination, it reiterated that the ‘benefits of prompt vaccination’ with the AstraZeneca vaccine ‘far outweigh the risk of adverse events for individuals aged 30 years and over’, as well as those with underlying conditions.
However, alternatives will continue to be offered to those under 30, it confirmed.
The JCVI also recommended that patients should be informed of the frequency of ‘mild to moderate reactions’ to the vaccine in younger adults and advised to take paracetamol to mitigate symptoms.
Meanwhile, the JCVI added that it ‘supports flexibility’ in vaccine delivery to ensure ‘every opportunity’ is taken to offer the jab to groups with lower uptake – including the use of different vaccination settings and delivery to multigenerational households.
The JCVI ‘appreciates’ that a flexible approach ‘may also be required’ due to vaccine storage, transport and administration constraints, ‘exceptional individualised circumstances’, availability of ‘suitable approved vaccines’ and minimisation of wastage, it said.
It said progress into phase 2 should be ‘accompanied by continued efforts’ to extend coverage to those in phase 1 who remain unvaccinated, as well the completion of second doses for these groups.
While no vaccines are currently authorised for use in children, the JCVI has ‘started to consider evidence’ on the risk of serious disease in children, the role they may play in transmission and the safety and efficacy of Covid vaccines in children, it added.
Speaking in the House of Commons today, health secretary Matt Hancock said: ‘Today, the JCVI has published its final advice on an age-based prioritisation, which we accept in full.
‘I can announce formally, that from today we have opened up invitations to get a vaccine to all aged over 45, and then we will proceed to everyone aged over 40 in line with supplies.’
The news comes as NHS England last week said GP-led sites will not receive any new first-dose Covid vaccine deliveries at all over the next two weeks – over and above what was already expected – due to reduced supply.
Meanwhile, the Government has ‘accepted’ that any vaccine certification should have ‘minimal impact’ on GPs, according to the BMA.