Covid vaccine supply is set to see a ‘significant reduction’ from 29 March that is forecast to last four weeks, NHS England has said.
Mass vaccination centres and community pharmacy-led services have been asked to close unfilled Covid vaccine appointment bookings from 29 March.
However, NHS England told Pulse that PCN-led sites should keep booking patients from the first nine priority groups for both first and second doses.
Previously, practices were told to prepare to deliver double the number of first jabs alongside second doses from 15 March due to a ‘substantial increase in supply’ that was due to last ‘several weeks’.
However, NHS England today said that from 29 March first dose supply will be ‘significantly constrained’ as a result of ‘reductions in national inbound vaccines supply’.
In a letter to practices, it said this ‘significant reduction in weekly supply’ is predicted to ‘continue for a four-week period’.
It added: ‘From today, the supply constraint means vaccination centres and community pharmacy-led local vaccination services should close unfilled bookings from the week commencing 29 March and ensure no further appointments are uploaded to the National Booking System or Local Booking Systems from 1 to 30 April.’
NHS England has confirmed to Pulse that GP-led sites should continue to book patients from priority cohorts one to nine – the over 50s – for both first and second doses.
‘More detailed guidance is being issued directly to providers’, NHS England’s letter added.
It said: ‘From the start of the programme, the NHS has successfully had to adjust week-to-week vaccine delivery in the light of fluctuations in supply.
‘Our vaccination delivery programme was designed to be flexible, scaled up and diversified in line with fluctuating international vaccine supplies.’
The BBC has reported that the reduction in supply is partly due to a four-week delay in the delivery of five million doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine from India.
The letter added that practices should ‘renew efforts’ to maximise uptake in cohorts one to nine while delivering second doses and ‘take this time to deliver protection to the most vulnerable’.
It said: ‘Over this next period it is vital we focus on vaccinating those in cohorts one to nine, who are most vulnerable to Covid-19, as well as delivering to the agreed schedule significantly increased numbers of second doses, which double from the beginning of April.’
Patients aged under 50 ‘should not be offered vaccination unless they are eligible via a higher cohort’, although patients outside cohorts one to nine can be vaccinated ‘in exceptional circumstances’, it added.
The letter set out a series of actions PCNs should take ‘with immediate effect’ to ‘ensure prioritisation compliance with minimum wastage’.
These include declaring ‘excess long-life stock to regional leads where cohorts one to nine have been exhausted to enable allocations to be adjusted accordingly’, it said.
PCNs must also prioritise ‘short-life’ stock up to the week of 29 March, put in place reserve lists of eligible patients and consider ‘mutual aid’ between sites to target areas of lower uptake, it added.
Meanwhile, NHS England said ICSs and STPs should work with vaccination providers to ensure ‘staffing is in place to support innovative delivery and increased cohort one to nine penetration’.
This could include non-clinical staff for drive-through, pop-up and mobile clinics or ‘clinically-qualified’ primary care staff ‘deployed to provide vaccine confidence conversations with patient populations with low uptake’, it said.
However, systems should plan to deploy staff to alternative settings to ‘support increased cohort penetration’ as decreasing supply is ‘likely’ to cause a reduction in workforce demand in vaccination centres, it added.
The Government has set a target for all patients in priority groups one to nine to have been offered their first Covid shot by 15 April.
And NHS England last week announced further details of general practice involvement in phase two of the vaccination programme – giving practices until Friday 19 March to opt in or out of delivery.
Phase two will begin once the cohorts are formally authorised by the Government, which has a target for all adults to be offered a first dose by 31 July.
This article was updated at 9.30 on 18/03/21 to include the correction that GP-led vaccination sites should continue to book patients from 29 March.