NHS England should launch a new campaign to boost Covid vaccine uptake among nearly three million unvaccinated patients, with a target to reduce this to 2.5 million, the Public Accounts Committee has said.
The influential group of MPs, which holds Government to account on spending and efficiency, said NHS England and its local partners should focus especially on vulnerable risk groups where uptake has been low.
This should include pregnant women, of which only 58% had two doses by February; and people of Black, Black British and Pakistani origin, who were less than half as likely as White British people to have had a booster vaccination.
On delivery, NHS England needs to better demonstrate how the scaled-back vaccine programme this autumn will strike a balance between ensuring patient provision and safeguarding staff welfare, ensuring no service becomes overwhelmed.
‘Our own work looking at NHS backlogs and waiting times has highlighted the particular strains on GPs, who delivered around half of all Covid-19 vaccinations up to the end of May 2022,’ the report said.
The DHSC should also set out clear funding and targets for future Covid vaccination programmes in good time – including informing GPs and pharmacists – having done so very late for 2022/23.
The PAC report also said the Department of Health and Social Care and Vaccines Taskforce should urgently take advice to ensure that the UK’s future vaccine procurement strategy is not too ‘narrow’, having recently only focused on mRNA vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna.
And the taskforce, NHS England and UKHSA should update PAC on vaccine wastage, after a previous warning that slower uptake could bring this to a higher level in 2022 than in 2021 (when it was just 5%).
PAC chair Meg Hillier MP said: ‘The Department and NHS England must build on the initial successes of the vaccine programme and redouble efforts to reach people who are unvaccinated and at greater risk of becoming hospitalised or dying as a result of Covid-19.
‘Despite work to date, low vaccination rates persist in many vulnerable groups and fresh approaches are needed to reach then.’
She added that the PAC ‘recognises the enormous effort by those who developed, secured and administered our Covid vaccines’.
‘The vaccine programme made a real difference. As well as saving lives it has reduced the ongoing impact of the pandemic.’
But she said it was ‘important that the early success does not mean that the Department and NHS England take their eye off the ball in tackling future challenges and getting vaccines to hard to reach groups’.
This week, Moderna announced it has ‘completed regulatory submissions’ for its new Omicron Covid vaccine, which could be used for autumn boosters in the UK if approved by the MHRA.