GP practices administering the first Covid vaccine must administer batches of 975 doses within 3.5 days, rather than the previously-suggested five days.
This is due to MHRA regulatory requirements for handling the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine, the BMA has explained.
The news came as NHS England gave the green light for GPs to start to administer Covid vaccinations in the week commencing 14 December, with 280 GP sites expected to begin administering jabs next week.
The Pfizer vaccine is delivered in batches of 975 doses, which need to be transported at -70C.
NHS England had previously suggested GPs would have five days to administer the defrosted vaccine, however NHS England’s letter to GPs said it ‘can guarantee 3.5 days of vaccination following delivery, with storage at 2-8C’.
And in an email to GPs on Saturday evening, BMA GP Committee chair Dr Richard Vautrey explained that this had been reduced due to ‘regulatory requirements’.
He said: ‘Initial sites should receive a box of 975 Pfizer BioNTech vaccines on or close to 14 December.
‘Following the regulatory requirements set by MHRA, they will need to use the vaccine within 3.5 days, not the previously suggested five days, and so need to ensure patients are invited to attend within that timescale.’
He added that vaccine stock is being ‘held back nationally’ to ensure it is available to admnister a second dose to patients 21 days after their first.
Dr Vautrey also told practices taking part in the service that they will need to ‘re-prioritise and postpone other activities’ as vaccination teams will be unavailable for routine work.
He said: ‘The short timescale for delivery of this vaccine means that practices will need to re-prioritise and postpone other activities, such as non-essential health checks and reviews, in order to focus on the Covid-19 vaccination programme, particularly with the short period in which the vaccine will need to be used.
‘Practice vaccination teams will need to work in core hours and therefore cannot be available for other more routine activity at the same time.’
The BMA ‘believes’ that CCGs and NHS England ‘will support practices in doing this’ and patients ‘will appreciate this prioritisation’, he added.
Meanwhile, Dr Vautrey said that the BMA expects ‘approximately 280 practice group sites’ to administer the vaccine in the first phase, with site selection ‘largely’ based on areas with the highest number of patients over 80 as well as ‘inequalities, deprivation and other risk factors’.
Practices have been asked to sign up to the enhanced service to administer the vaccine by today (7 November) and those chosen will also be informed by NHS England today, he added.
They will be given ‘full details including details of vaccine supply dates, delivery of other consumables and equipment to the site and the process for assuring readiness before delivery of vaccines’, he said.
Practices will receive a delivery of IT equipment and a fridge for each delivery site, as well access to training and ‘full support to mobilise within the timescale’, he added.
Dr Vautrey said: ‘Sir Simon Stevens said earlier this week that around 1,000 GP group sites had indicated their willingness to take part in the programme.
‘This is an impressive response by general practices in so short a time. It’s a sign of the willingness of GPs and their teams to do all we can to protect our most vulnerable patients as quickly as possible.’
He added: ‘Once the vaccine becomes more widely available other practice groups will be given at least 10 days’ notice and then be also able to start vaccinating.
‘It is therefore important for practices not involved in the first wave to review the enhanced service specification and to indicate to their CCG as soon as possible their decision about involvement in this programme.’
The enhanced service specification for the programme has been updated with ‘modifications following discussion with MHRA’ and to ensure patients from non-participating practices can be vaccinated, Dr Vautrey said.
It was today revealed that GPs are required to ‘individually assess’ each patient before they administer a Covid jab under the initial legal delivery mechanism.