Health secretary Matt Hancock has ‘a high degree’ of confidence that supplies of Covid vaccines will be sufficient for patients to be able to get the ‘right’ second dose after 12 weeks.
He also said that work is ‘underway’ to ensure logistics are in place for vaccination sites to be able to plan appointments for second doses when these are due.
But his comments come as GPs have struggled with inconsistent supplies of vaccines and deliveries being made with short notice since the vaccination programme began.
In a House of Commons session on Covid-19, Labour MP for Rochdale Tony Lloyd pointed out that ‘at the moment’ vaccination sites ‘are being given roughly a week’s notice of the quantity of vaccine and also the type of vaccine’.
And he asked: ‘As a way of working that is fine for the first round of vaccinations, but when we come to the second round, can there be flexibility built in so that those who are responsible for delivering the vaccine know what vaccines they’ll get and how many they will get, so that they can ensure that those second vaccines are the ones that are needed?’
To which Mr Hancock responded: ‘‘I understand why people who are delivering the vaccines on the ground want to know these forecasts. The challenge is that the supply schedule is lumpy and hence we don’t want to give inaccurate certainty. We don’t want to imply that there is a certainty where there isn’t.
‘Where there is certainty is that we have a high degree of confidence that the second doses will be available, and of course will be distributed according to need with the right vaccine for the right second dose, going to the right place, and we have a full record of that.
‘The second dosing starts in earnest in a couple of months’ time – obviously 12 weeks on from the 4 January when we shifted the dosing schedule to a 12-week schedule – and we have the logistics underway to ensure that people get access to the right dose to match the first dose that they had.’
Meanwhile, responding to a question from Sir David Amess, Conservative MP for Southend West, whether second doses could be guaranteed, Mr Hancock stressed the UK had signed contracts with vaccine suppliers ‘early’, with ‘solid’ contracts that should ‘deliver necessary doses to the UK’.
‘I look forward to those being delivered on and I have assurances from all quarters that that is what is now going to happen,’ he added.
Later on, Mr Hancock reiterated that the Government has ‘a high degree of confidence’ that the vaccine supplies will be there for the second doses, adding: ‘We are already planning for the rollout of the second doses because we know when each of the second doses becomes due, because it is 12 weeks after the first dose, and so that planning is in hand.
He also quipped: ‘Frankly, compared to most of the planning that we’ve had time to do in this pandemic, 12 weeks is an absolute age.’
The news comes as the BMA is still hearing reports of CCGs telling GP sites to waste vaccines rather than giving them as second doses. However Mr Hancock told the Commons that ‘every drop’ of vaccine must be used.
Mr Hancock also took questions on news that the South African mutation of the coronavirus has spread in the community in some parts of the UK, as well as on the number of care homes that have not yet been reached by vaccinators.
In response, he said the UK is already in negotiations with vaccine developers regarding getting early access to ‘tweaked’ vaccines, should these become necessary.
He also said that 110 care homes have yet to be offered Covid vaccinations for ‘clinical reasons’ related to outbreaks. Yesterday, NHS England announced that every eligible care home had been offered the vaccine, mentioning the exceptions but without giving a figure.