GPs will not be able to co-administer Covid-19 and flu jabs due to safety concerns, the deputy chief medical officer for England has said.
Professor Jonathan Van-Tam, also a medical adviser on the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), told MPs yesterday that he is optimistic that some Covid-19 vaccine will be available before Christmas.
But he added it was unlikely this could be co-administered at the same time as the flu vaccinations – an ambition set out by health secretary Matt Hancock last week.
He told the House of Commons Health and Social Care Committee: ‘I’m cautiously optimistic that we will have some vaccine this side of Christmas.’
But he added: ‘If we do, we will not have any data on whether it can be given at the same time as flu vaccine – and likely we will have to delay or separate those two vaccines apart in terms of the staging at which we give them to the relevant patients.’
It comes as guidance from the RCGP warned that vaccination programmes this winter could take twice as long for GP practices to carry out because of Covid-19 infection control measures.
GPs have been warned to ‘gear up for a major expansion of the winter flu programme’ as part of the QOF arrangements for 2020/21, with reports the Government may look at vaccinating everyone over the age of 50.
Professor Van-Tam also told the select committee hearing on management of the coronavirus outbreak that in the first instance it may be most appropriate to give Covid-19 vaccine to targeted groups of patients.
The JCVI has already done some work on developing an algorithm to determine who is most likely to suffer complications or death from coronavirus, he explained, as a way to potentially direct an immunisation programme.
The JCVI has previously signalled this would include NHS staff and vulnerable groups.
He told MPs: ‘Targeting a very small proportion of the very highest risk will deal with a very large amount of the population who have the mortality loaded against them at the moment.’
In guidance on delivering mass vaccinations during Covid-19, the RCGP said running flu and Covid-19 vaccination programmes at the same time posed logistical challenges for GPs, with infection control procedures potentially doubling the time it would take to deliver every vaccine.
Each vaccine could take 4-6 minutes to deliver rather than the usual 1-3 minutes and would have ‘significant implications’ for how long it takes to vaccinate a population unless more staff are available to carry out jabs.
Delivering both vaccination programmes will require ‘detailed planning and preparation’ and coordination as well as clarity on who should be vaccinated and when, it said.
The news comes as news broke this week that the Covid-19 vaccine being developed by scientists at the University of Oxford has been found to induce ‘a strong immune response’ with ‘no early safety concerns’, following the first two trial stages.
The UK Government agreed a deal in May with AstraZeneca to make up to 30m doses of the Oxford vaccine available by September for the UK, as part of an agreement to deliver 100m doses in total, should it prove safe and effective.
It also comes as GPs look set to face unprecedented flu vaccine shortages, and as one key supplier will be unable to get a third of stock to practices until November.