Dr Nikki Kanani, a general practitioner (GP) and National Health Service (NHS) Medical Director for primary care, has paid tribute to her colleagues as the UK began rolling out the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine to GP led services to ensure the vulnerable people in care homes can be protected against Covid-19.
Dr Kanani said: “The biggest vaccination programme in NHS [National Health Service] history is already off to a strong start with around 1 million people already vaccinated against coronavirus – this is a credit to our exceptional NHS staff.
“GPs, nurses, pharmacists and countless other staff and volunteers have been working around the clock to be able to launch almost 200 more sites this week. Combined with the arrival of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine, we will now be able to protect many more vulnerable people against the virus and faster.”
As part of a phased rollout since the Oxford jabs received last month, the vaccine has been trialled at selected hospitals in the country for surveillance purposes before being sent out to hundreds of community-based local vaccination services.
It comes as the UK remains under a strict stay-at-home lockdown as the infection rates from a new variant of coronavirus surged further, mounting the pressure on hospitals. said it will be these vaccines that provide the "means of escape" from lockdown and has pledged daily vaccination updates starting next Monday.
Unlike the , the first to be approved for use in the UK last year, the Oxford vaccine does not need to be stored at ultra-low temperatures and is therefore much easier to move, making it easier to use in care homes and to vaccinate the housebound. NHS England said that hundreds of new sites are opening at hospitals and in the community this week in the new phase of the vaccination programme. This is on top of the 700 which were already open and vaccinating, with seven vaccination centres among many more sites coming online next week, along with more hospitals, GP-led services and a number of pilot pharmacy vaccine services.
“Every part of the government and the NHS are working around the clock to rapidly scale up our Covid-19 vaccination programme so we can protect those most at risk from this awful disease as quickly as possible,” said UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock.
“The Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine can be transported easily and I’m delighted care home residents will begin receiving their first Oxford/AstraZeneca jabs this week. More than 1.3 million people have already been vaccinated in the UK, including 23 per cent – or over 650,000 – of the over-80s in England,” he said.
The minister said the government aims to offer vaccinations to the majority of care home residents by the end of January and all 13 million people in the top four priority cohorts of those at the highest risk of death from the virus by mid-February.
“This will ensure the most vulnerable are protected and will save tens of thousands of lives. As our vaccination programme ramps up, I urge everybody to continue following the latest restrictions to keep cases low and protect loved ones,” he said.
The NHS said up to 100 hospital more sites are due to come online across the country, subject to final assurance checks, this week. There are also another 180 GP-led services which are also due to come online this week.
The rollout comes after the vaccine was approved for use outside of hospitals by the four Chief Medical Officers of the United Kingdom and NHS England’s Medical Director, Professor Stephen Powis. Care home residents cannot travel to hospital for a jab and Pfizer is difficult to get to hospitals so the latest decision will speed up the drive to vaccinate them.
Care home residents and staff were set as the highest priority group by the independent Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation. In addition to the Oxford jab, local vaccination services are being issued with small packs of Pfizer jabs which can be used in care homes. When the vaccine was first issued it had to be shipped in “pizza boxes” containing almost 1,000 doses, meaning that care homes could not be jabbed without wasting supplies, the NHS said.
GP services are being offered an extra £10 for every care home resident vaccinated in January, in a drive to get a majority vaccinated before the end of the month.