Patients due their second Covid vaccine dose will be prioritised for existing supply within the 12-week window, NHS England’s chief executive has pledged.
Sir Simon Stevens’ comments, made in a parliamentary hearing on Tuesday, come as the Government last week refused to guarantee that patients would receive their second dose within the timeframe.
This comes amid growing tensions with medical professionals regarding the UK chief medical officers’ decision to lengthen the interval between first and second doses from the three weeks prescribed by vaccine manufacturer Pfizer.
A number of GP vaccination sites were honouring second-dose appointments until NHS England said this was banned, and the BMA wrote to the Government last week about halving the gap between Pfizer vaccine doses to six weeks.
Giving evidence on Tuesday to the Health and Social Care and Science and Technology Committees, Sir Stevens was asked whether the ‘large numbers’ coming forward for their second dose from March was expected to slow down the rollout of first vaccine doses in priority cohorts five to nine.
To which he answered: ‘First and foremost those second doses have got to be delivered. So we look 12 weeks on from when the first doses were delivered and we know that that has to be first call on the vaccine available in those weeks.
‘Over and above that then, as we get increasing clarity as to what the available supply will be, that will shape the speed at which we can advance into those other groups.’
Sir Simon further confirmed to the committees that the delay to second doses is due to a vaccine shortage.
He said: ‘Your key point was “is this being done because of a supply shortage?” and the answer to that is of course “yes, there is a supply shortage”.
‘We have done very well in this country to get the supply we have available to us. The question is how do we use it to best effect.’
Meanwhile, a new JCVI document, published on Tuesday, said that there is ‘strong evidence’ more deaths will be prevented by extending the gap between jabs to 12 weeks while there is limited vaccine supply.
But it added that it would be ‘worth starting to give second doses to the highest priority groups earlier than the 12-week deadline’ once first-dose vaccinations of the first three of four priority groups are complete.
Sir Stevens also told the parliamentary committees that GPs would be able to put in orders for how much vaccine they require once the time comes for second doses.
He said: ‘For the time being, we’re on this so-called ‘push’ model for fairness.
‘But for the second doses, we will be partly moving onto a so-called ‘pull’ model where the local services will be saying, “ I need this many vaccines next week for my second vaccinations” and then the vaccination team will make those vaccines available to them.’
GPs previously called for more vaccines to be delivered, saying they have capacity to administer much more than they are receiving.