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GPs begin offering Covid-19 vaccine

Hundreds of local vaccination services run by family doctors and their teams are opening across England this week, as the roll out of the biggest vaccination programme in NHS history gains further momentum. 

Groups of health providers are setting up local vaccination centres in villages, towns and cities covering every part of the country. Practices in more than 200 parts of the country have taken delivery of the vaccine and kicked off clinics already. More practices in more parts of the country will join on a phased basis during December and in the coming months as vaccine supply allows.

The community sites build on the work of the scores of hospital hubs which began vaccinating last week, with 90-year old Margaret Keenan receiving her first dose to become a global trailblazer in Coventry last Tuesday.

The NHS will contact people in the previously announced priority groups, over 80s and care home staff and residents, when it is their turn to receive the vaccine.

How will this week’s new Local Vaccination Services work?  

Nurses, paramedics, pharmacists and other NHS staff will work alongside GPs to vaccinate those aged 80 and over, as well as care home workers and residents, identified as priority groups for the life-saving vaccine.

Along with other countries in the UK, residents of care homes in England will also receive their first vaccine this week after distributors finalise new, stringent processes to ensure safe delivery of the PfizerBioNTech vaccine.

Like hospital staff, who launched the world-leading campaign last week, practice teams are working rapidly to redesign their sites and put in place safe processes to meet the tough logistical challenges of offering the vaccination.

The NHS will contact people in the priority groups when it is their turn to receive the vaccine.

Who will get the vaccine first?

Phased vaccine supply means the bulk of vaccination for high risk groups will inevitably take place between January and April. So great vigilance is required before then to prevent a third wave of Covid.

Patients aged 80 and above who are already attending hospital as an outpatient, and those who are being discharged home after a hospital stay, will be among the first to receive the life-saving jab. Hospitals have already begun inviting over 80s in for a jab and working with care home providers to book their staff in to vaccination clinics.

All those vaccinated will need a booster jab 21 days later.

When will NHS staff be vaccinated?

The JCVI have put patient-facing health and social care staff into the top two priority groups because of their heightened risk of exposure to the virus. So, any appointments not used for the initial groups will be used for healthcare workers who are at highest risk of serious illness from covid.

How will people know when it is their time to get the vaccine?

When it is the right time people will receive an invitation to come forward.  For most people this will be a letter, either from their GP or the national NHS.  This letter will include all the information a person will need to book appointments, including your NHS number. We are asking the public not to contact the NHS to get an appointment until you get this letter. We would be grateful if you would help us to share this message over the coming weeks

Where will people get the vaccine?

The NHS has rapidly put in place new delivery channels tailored to the particular logistical requirements of the first Covid vaccine to be approved:

  • Hospital Hubs: Dozens of NHS trusts will act as hospital hubs where patients and staff can be vaccinated on site. These hubs are where we know the Pfizer vaccine can be stored safely.
  • Local Vaccination Services: To make it as easy as possible for those who are eligible to access a vaccination safely, Local Vaccination Services will also be available, starting this week.  These community and primary care-led services will vary based on local and logistical considerations but will include GP practices, local authority sourced buildings or other local facilities and as vaccine supply increases in the New Year, local pharmacies too.
  • Vaccination Centres: The NHS will also establish vaccination centres, where large numbers of people will be able to go and get a jab.  The majority will open in the New Year when supply of the vaccine increases. They are being set up in local venues such as sports stadiums and concert venues that offer the physical space to deal with large numbers of people while maintaining social distancing.

Delivery from Hospital Hubs and Local Vaccination Services

Although the Pfizer vaccine is typically delivered by a simple injection in the shoulder it is complex to move, store and prepare. It needs to be stored at -70C before being thawed out and can only be moved four times within that cold chain beginning in Belgium before being used. So the NHS began delivery from “Hospital Hubs” and are now activating GP-led Local Vaccination Services to begin vaccinations this week. More practices in more parts of the country will join on a phased basis during December and in the coming months as vaccine supply allows.

What happens next?

The NHS will offer the vaccine to more groups of people and in more ways, like local vaccination services, but this will be a marathon over the coming months, not a sprint:

  • We will keep expanding the programme as we get more vaccines.
  • So we can go as fast as supply allows, we have been recruiting and training more vaccinators and support staff from across the NHS and outside of it.
  • All of these will be trained, assessed and supervised, just like regular NHS vaccinators.

The public can really help the NHS deliver this effectively to those who need it most. The NHS asks are: 

  • Your health service will contact you when it’s the right time to come forward so please don’t seek a vaccine before then;
  • Please act on your invite and make sure you attend your appointments when you arrange them;
  • And of course, please continue to abide by all the social distancing and hand hygiene guidance, which will still save lives.