The number of GP practice sites delivering the Covid vaccine from this week has plummeted to around 100.
Previously, some 280 designated GP sites had been expected to begin vaccinating patients this week across the country.
But today it has revealed that practices in ‘more than 100’ areas are set to receive deliveries of vaccine stock, ready to start clinics this afternoon and tomorrow.
NHS England said: ‘Practices in more than 100 parts of the country are taking delivery of the vaccine today, with some kicking off their clinics this afternoon and the majority starting on Tuesday.
‘Groups of health providers are setting up local vaccination centres in villages, towns and cities covering every part of the country.’
It added that ‘more practices and community pharmacies in other parts of England [will be] joining on a phased basis during December and in the coming months’.
It remains unclear when further GP sites are due to go live as part of this first wave and what the reason is behind the reduction in numbers. An NHS England spokesperson told Pulse that there would be more vaccine deliveries later in the week, but would not say how many sites would be able to join.
However, it comes as Pulse revealed that PCNs have had to pull out of delivering the Covid vaccine this week because of the MHRA’s new anaphylaxis safety guidance – with other PCNs left to urgently reconsider plans.
And NHS England last week reached out to PCNs reconsidering their vaccine plans, saying they should approach their commissioner for support.
At GP sites going live this week, teams will begin vaccinating those over 80, as well as care home residents and staff ‘along with other countries in the UK’.
NHS England said: ‘Residents of care homes in England will also receive their first vaccine later this week after distributors finalise new, stringent processes to ensure safe delivery of the PfizerBioNTech vaccine.’
NHS England said earlier this month that the rollout of the Pfizer vaccine would not begin in care homes, despite residents and staff being the JCVI’s first priority group.
NHS England primary care medical director Dr Nikki Kanani said: ‘GPs, nurses, pharmacists and other primary care staff are eager to play their part in protecting people against coronavirus.
‘As a GP I am proud to be part of this huge national effort to protect our patients against the virus and I would urge the public to come forward when they are called up for the vaccine.’
BMA GP Committee chair Dr Richard Vautrey added: ‘This will be a major undertaking and now hundreds of GP practices working together in locally based practice groups will ensure that this vital vaccination campaign is carried out as swiftly as possible.’
RCGP chair Professor Martin Marshall warned that it would be ‘an enormous challenge’, with GP teams delivering the Covid vaccine programme alongside this year’s expanded flu programme and ‘the usual care and services our patients rely on us for’.
He said: ‘There are also logistical challenges but general practice has an excellent track record of delivering mass vaccination programmes, and we want to use this experience to help protect people from Covid-19 and start getting life back to normal again.
‘We won’t be vaccinating everyone all at once – it will be a relatively small number at first – but as long as there is supply, GPs and our teams at selected sites will start vaccinating people this week, starting with our most vulnerable patients.’
Professor Marshall added that patients will be invited for vaccination and should not contact their practice.
A spokesperson for NHS England said: ‘Practices will start vaccinating once all the necessary safety checks have been completed, and when surgeries can demonstrate they meet updated guidance, with hundreds ready to vaccinate this week thanks to the hard work of GPs, nurses, pharmacists and other primary care staff.’
GPs were last weekend given the green light to start delivering Covid vaccinations in the week commencing 14 December.