Figures released by NHS England this week showed that on 5 January 784 GP-led vaccination sites were operational.
Prime minister Boris Johnson told a Downing Street briefing on 7 January that ‘by the end of next week there will be over 1,000 GP-led sites providing vaccines, 223 hospital sites, seven giant vaccination centres and a first wave of 200 community pharmacies’.
He added: ‘If all goes well these together should have the capacity to deliver hundreds of thousands of vaccines per day by 15 January and it is our plan that everyone should have a vaccination available within a radius of 10 miles.’
If more than 1,000 GP-led vaccination sites are up and running by 15 January, this will mark around six weeks from 5 December, when the DHSC promised: ‘Over 1,000 local vaccination centres, operated by groups of GPs, will…come online shortly and we will increase them as more vaccines come into the country.’
GPs have been critical of the slow rollout in parts of England – with RCGP chair Professor Martin Marshall warning this week that in some areas GPs had volunteered to set up sites ‘but haven’t been asked and don’t know when they will be asked’.
GPonline reported in December that some sites due to go live in the first wave of GP COVID-19 vaccination had been forced to stand down because their premises were not suitable for managing the 15-minute observation period required by the MHRA after administration of the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine.
These sites may now be able to come back into play after NHS England confirmed the observation period was not required with the Oxford/Astra Zeneca vaccine.
GP-led vaccination sites
Alongside delays in opening up new local vaccination sites, problems with deliveries of vaccine have affected GP rollout. Health and social care secretary Matt Hancock visited a London GP practice on 7 January to mark the rollout of the Oxford/Astra Zeneca vaccine, but had to watch staff administer doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine because a delivery failed to arrive.
BMA GP committee chair Dr Richard Vautrey said: ‘The efforts of GPs and the wider NHS to deliver 1.3m doses of the vaccine so far have been nothing short of remarkable and we thank the many thousands of GP practices that are now part of this programme.
‘The scale and speed of the rollout, along with the practical challenges of transporting and delivering the Pfizer vaccine means that logistical challenges in getting the vaccines out to everyone are inevitable and this is understandably the cause of some frustration for GPs on the ground and adding unnecessarily to their already heavy workload.
‘Given the current rate of infection and the immense strain now on the NHS it is absolutely crucial that we get vaccines into vulnerable patients and healthcare workers across the country as quickly as possible and so we urgently need supplies and deliveries of the vaccines to be considerably ramped up to allow for wider and faster rollout.’
RCGP chair Professor Martin Marshall said this week: ‘We are hearing about practices who have volunteered [to deliver jabs] …and sometimes at short notice they have been told that their supplies are no longer available and they’ve had to cancel their patients or postpone their patients for another time.
‘And we hear of a larger group of practices who have volunteered and want to be part of the system, but haven’t yet been asked and don’t know when they will be asked.’
GPs have also said allowing individual practices to deliver vaccination could help speed up the rollout of vaccines. NHS England medical director of primary care Dr Nikki Kanani told a webinar for NHS staff this week that guidance would come soon on whether – and how – this could be rolled out.
Mr Johnson said on 7 January: ‘The limits will not be on our distributional power but on the supply of vaccines.’ But he added that he had ‘no doubt that we have enough supply’ to vaccinate the first four priority groups identified by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation by 15 February – meaning around 13.9m people across the UK should receive a first dose of vaccine by that date.
More than 400,000 new cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed by tests in the past week alone in England, and almost 5,000 people have died.
There are now more than 30,000 patients in hospital across the UK with COVID-19 – around 50% more than at the peak of the first wave in April 2020.