NHS England has confirmed that vaccine supplies in the North East and Yorkshire will be diverted to areas of the South where fewer over-80s have been vaccinated.
Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today show this morning (22 January), NHSE’s medical director for primary care Dr Nikki Kanani responded ‘yes’ when asked about the issue.
She went onto describe the need to ‘target’ deliveries to ensure that they reach areas ‘where there are more people left to vaccinate in the priority cohorts.’
However, vaccine deployment minister Nadhim Zahawi denied that vaccine supplies were being diverted from the North to the South of the country.
Presenter Mishal Husain asked Dr Kanani about regional variation in vaccination rates of over-80s, spanning from 36% in Suffolk and North East Essex to 67% in the North East and Yorkshire.
She said: ‘Does that mean that vaccine supply is being diverted away from the areas which have got these higher rates of vaccination, so Yorkshire and the North East, for example?’
Dr Kanani responded: ‘Yes, I really understand my colleagues’ frustration, particularly in this case it happens to be in the Northern areas, they’ve done an incredible job getting through their cohort priorities, one and two, so their care home staff and residents, their over 80s, and their health and social care staff.
‘And so while we have a supply that is constrained, we need to make sure that goes to the areas where people are not vaccinated, because what we have to do, our priority, is to make sure that the top priority groups are vaccinated as quickly as possible.
‘So we need to target our deliveries to make sure that they are going to areas where there are more people left to vaccinate in the priority cohorts.’
Yesterday, an NHSE spokesperson told Pulse: ‘All available vaccine doses are being delivered to vaccination sites and every GP-led vaccination site is receiving a delivery this week.
‘To ensure all of those people in the top priority groups can get vaccinated quickly, targeted deliveries are being made to areas where there are more people left to vaccinate in the priority cohorts.’
Pulse had also asked NHSE to confirm news reported yesterday by HSJ, claiming that GP practices in the affected areas will receive around 100,000 doses next week, half of their previous 200,000 allocation.
A number of fellow Conservative MPs joined Mr Zahawi in disputing that supplies were being moved from the North to the South, and Pulse has asked the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and Department of Health and Social Care to explain the minister’s comments.
A Government spokesperson said: ‘In the coming week millions of doses of the vaccines will be delivered and we remain on track to offer first vaccinations to the top four priority groups by mid-February.
‘As we’ve said, supply is the limiting factor and as the public would expect we’re prioritising those most at risk from this disease across the country.
‘Our approach so far has ensured we’ve vaccinated more people than every country in Europe combined.’
In response, Dr Dean Eggitt, chief executive of Doncaster LMC in South Yorkshire, told Pulse: ‘Diverting vaccine supply to help other areas of the UK is defensible only if there have been vaccine shortages there. I understand that the North of England has been organised and efficient in vaccinating patients and so the diversion of supply does not address the real issue.
‘My colleagues in the South of England need support with time and capacity to cope with ill people as well as running efficient vaccination clinics. This strategy has the effect of levelling down our capacity to protect patients, rather than levelling up other areas. This is morally wrong and risks harm to patients through delayed vaccination.’
He continued: ‘Further still, it wastes our time yet again in organising vaccination clinics where this time could have been spent better elsewhere. The vaccine supply chain logistics has been a wonderful example of how not to do it.’
But RCGP chair Professor Martin Marshall said that ‘if vaccine supplies are being diverted to areas where there is a higher proportion of higher priority patients not yet vaccinated, then that makes sense to ensure equity across the country’.
However he added that ‘practices need clear, reliable and timely communication about when to expect vaccine deliveries, and any last minute changes to plans should be minimised’.
‘Meticulous planning is going into running this programme, and when these are forced to change at the last minute, it is frustrating for staff and confusing and disappointing for patients. As long as there is supply, GPs and our teams will continue to vaccinate patients as quickly as we can,’ he said.
Speaking to the BBC, Dr Kanani said it was NHS England’s ‘job’ to ‘make sure that across the country, people have equal access to the vaccine’.
She said: ‘So we do need to make sure that we target it, so that every area gets the opportunity to get particularly their over 80s and their care home staff and residents vaccinated…
‘So what will happen over the next week or so is that those areas that for many reasons, including doing their usual GP work, which is really, really important, haven’t been able to deliver vaccine as quickly as other areas, will be able to do so.’
The ambiguity comes as Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon this week accused the UK Government of ‘spinning misleading figures’ on Covid vaccine supply/