Coronavirus vaccines will be rolled out to care homes and GP surgeries within a fortnight, after regulators confirmed that doses can be transported in refrigerated bags.
GPs were last night told to prepare to receive doses in the week starting December 14, with care homes expected to receive the vaccine in the same week.
The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) still has to rubber-stamp the protocol for removing the fragile vaccine from its deep-freeze, but officials expect that to be resolved within days.
NHS officials last night gave GPs ten days’ notice to prepare to receive stocks of the vaccine in order to begin the process of injecting elderly and vulnerable people.
Coronavirus vaccines will be rolled out to care homes and GP surgeries within a fortnight, after regulators confirmed that doses can be transported in refrigerated bags. Pictured, Matron May Parsons (right) talks to Heather Price (left) during training in the Covid-19 Vaccination Clinic at the University Hospital in Coventry
GPs were last night told to prepare to receive doses in the week starting December 14, with care homes expected to receive the vaccine in the same week. Pictured, a lorry leaves Pfizer Manufacturing in Puurs, Belgium as the UK authorises the vaccine for emergency use
The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) still has to rubber-stamp the protocol for removing the fragile vaccine from its deep-freeze, but officials expect that to be resolved within days (stock photo)
In a letter, they said central GP hubs will receive trays of 975 doses and will have to use all of them within three and a half days. The sites to receive the jabs will be confirmed on Monday.
FROM MAN CITY… TO MASS TESTING
In ordinary times, football fans would be queuing in their thousands outside Manchester City’s Etihad Stadium to watch their favourite team in action.
But the sporting venue will now be transformed into a mass vaccination centre, administering around 1,000 jabs a day.
Pictures from outside the stadium show large yellow clinical waste bins and fences going up in preparation.
The first doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine arrived on Thursday.
The UK was the first country to approve the jab on Wednesday and there are plans to start vaccinating the most vulnerable from next week. The vaccine, which needs to be kept at a temperature of about -70C, is up to 95 per cent effective.
The Etihad – which has a football capacity of 55,000 – is one of a number of sporting venues chosen to be a vaccination centre, alongside Ashton Gate Stadium in Bristol and John Smith’s Stadium in Huddersfield.
Horse racing venues – such as Epsom Downs in Surrey – are also set to be transformed to help vaccinate the nation.
The letter said: ‘It is crucial we start to activate local vaccination services to allow priority patient cohorts to start accessing the vaccine.’
The logistics of storing and transporting the complex Pfizer vaccine had delayed plans to make care home residents the first to receive the jabs.
Health bosses had put vulnerable social care residents at the top of a prioritisation list for the vaccine, which received authorisation on Wednesday. But the practicalities of transporting the vaccine – which can be moved only four times and needs to be stored at -70C – meant the plans was delayed.
Instead, over-80s and care home staff will be the first to receive the jab when the vaccination programme – dubbed Operation Courageous – starts in NHS hospitals next Tuesday.
Hospitals have specialist freezers capable of storing the vaccine, and are able to inject hundreds of people in a short space of time, without having to move doses.
A route-map for distributing the vaccines into the community has been drawn up, after the MHRA clarified that doses could be transported in refrigerated bags.
Crucially, the NHS has already secured single-use bags for every vaccination team, which keep contents between 2C and 8C (35F and 46F) for up to 49 hours. Once at their destination, doses can be put into a normal fridge, as long as they are used no more than five days after coming out of deep-freeze.
When ready for injection, vials are warmed to room temperature over a two-hour period, diluted and drawn into needles, and then teams have six hours in which to vaccinate patients.
The remaining sticking point surrounds the issue of how the vaccines are removed from the 975-dose trays in which they have been transported from Pfizer’s factory in Belgium.
BREASTFEEDING MUMS MUST WAIT FOR PFIZER VACCINE
Breastfeeding mothers will not be able to take the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine, regulatory documents state.
Authorisation papers for the vaccine, published by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), revealed any mother breastfeeding a child will be excluded from the vaccination programme on safety grounds.
Pregnant women have also been told they cannot have the Pfizer/BioNTech jab – and any woman who does receive it should try not to conceive for at least two months after their second dose. The documents also confirm that children under the age of 16 should not be vaccinated.
This advice may change in the future – and it is not clear whether the Oxford vaccination programme will be able to include some of these excluded groups.
The MHRA document said it’s unknown whether the vaccine is ‘excreted in human milk’, adding: ‘A risk to the newborns/infants cannot be excluded.’
Some women, however, will have become pregnant during the trial and they will be monitored to see whether they or their babies suffer any adverse effects.
This unpacking process – which will be done by licensed private contractors working for the NHS – needs to be signed off by the MHRA, but sources last night said the issue was expected to be resolved imminently.
The issue may become redundant once the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine – which does not require the same super-cold storage – is approved.
The MHRA is assessing the Oxford jab, with a decision expected within days. Officials are proceeding with the Pfizer plan regardless, and are working on the assumption that they will not see the Oxford vaccine approved much before Christmas.
But Professor Chris Whitty, chief medical officer for England, last night warned NHS staff to expect a tough few months, despite the prospect of a vaccine.
In a letter to NHS employees, co-signed by the chief medical officers of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, Professor Whitty wrote: ‘Although the very welcome news about vaccines means that we can look forward to 2021 with greater optimism, vaccine deployment will have only a marginal impact in reducing numbers coming into the health service with Covid over the next three months.
‘The social mixing which occurs around Christmas may well put additional pressure on hospitals and general practice in the New Year and we need to be ready for that.
‘We think it likely that by spring the effects of vaccination will begin to be felt in reducing Covid admissions, attendances and deaths significantly but there are many weeks before we get to that stage.
‘We must support one another as a profession as we go to the next, hard months.’
COVID VACCINES WILL HAVE ‘MARGINAL IMPACT’ ON WINTER HOSPITAL NUMBERS
Health services face a tough three months over the winter period as new coronavirus vaccines will only have a ‘marginal impact’ on hospital numbers, the UK’s four chief medical officers have warned.
In a letter written to colleagues, the four said that festive gatherings were likely to put additional pressure on healthcare services.
The letter read: ‘Winter is always a challenging time for the NHS and wider health and social care service. This year will be especially hard due to Covid-19.
‘Although the very welcome news about vaccines means that we can look forward to 2021 with greater optimism, vaccine deployment will have only a marginal impact in reducing numbers coming into the health service with Covid over the next three months.
‘The actions and self-discipline of the whole population during lockdowns and other restrictions have helped reduce the peak and in most parts of the four nations hospital numbers are likely to fall over the next few weeks, but not everywhere.
‘The social mixing which occurs around Christmas may well put additional pressure on hospitals and general practice in the New Year and we need to be ready for that.’
The letter praised health workers for responding ‘magnificently’ to the challenges of the pandemic and stressed the importance of continuing support for others within the profession.
But it added that it was ‘essential’ that the next months were used to learn more about the virus to help inform treatments.
‘We do not expect Covid to disappear even once full vaccination has occurred although it will be substantially less important as a cause of mortality and morbidity,’ it said.
‘It is therefore absolutely essential that we use the next months to learn as much as we can as we expect Covid to be less common in the future.
‘This will allow us to have the best chance of a strong evidence base for managing it over the coming years.’
The chief medical officer of England, Professor Chris Whitty; of Scotland, Dr Gregor Smith; of Wales, Dr Frank Atherton; and of Northern Ireland, Dr Michael McBride, all signed the letter.
Immunity certificates for people vaccinated against Covid ARE possible, government scientists say
By Victoria Allen, Science Correspondent for the Daily Mail
Immunity certificates for people who have been vaccinated against coronavirus are ‘possible’, Government advisers said yesterday.
Scientists advising on the pandemic have ‘re-examined’ immunity certificates – the idea that people given a Covid jab, or who have recovered from the virus, could be freed from pandemic restrictions for a period of time.
They released their deliberations yesterday, days after the new minister for the vaccines, Nadhim Zahawi, controversially suggested restaurants, bars and cinemas could turn people away if they are unable to show evidence they have been immunised.
Nervtag (the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group), which also advises the Government, concludes: ‘Some form of Covid-19 immunity certification is likely to be possible, but further data and considerations are needed before a recommendation can be made.’
Scientists advising on the pandemic have ‘re-examined’ immunity certificates – the idea that people given a jab, or who have recovered from the virus, could be freed from pandemic restrictions for a period of time. Pictured, May Parsons (right) is assessed by Victoria Parker (back) during training in the Covid-19 Vaccination Clinic at the University Hospital in Coventry
It decided to look at immunity certificates after vaccine trials showed jabs offer a ‘high degree’ of protection against falling ill with Covid.
With the UK well into the second wave of cases, a significant number of previously infected people may also have some immunity. But how long people will be safe for, and the level of protection they have, is not known.
In a section of their document on immunity certificates entitled ‘key uncertainties’, the advisers state: ‘The duration of natural or vaccine-induced immunity is not yet fully understood.’
With airline Qantas set to require international travellers to be vaccinated before allowing them on a plane, immunity certificates have raised concerns over human rights and medical privacy. Critics fear they could eventually be used to deny people access to public transport, universities or jobs.
It comes as medical professionals familiarise themselves with the administration of the new vaccine.
Two of the nurses who’ll be leading the immunisation battle were pictured in training yesterday.
They released their deliberations yesterday, days after the new minister for the vaccines, Nadhim Zahawi, controversially suggested restaurants, bars and cinemas could turn people away if they are unable to show evidence they have been immunised. Pictured, Matt Hancock
Inside the Covid-19 Vaccination Clinic at the University Hospital in Coventry, Matron May Parson was seen touching the spot on her nursing colleague Heather Price to show where the jab is to be given.
Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove this week insisted the Government is not planning to introduce ‘vaccine passports’, telling BBC Breakfast: ‘Let’s not get ahead of ourselves, that’s not the plan.’
However there is some evidence suggesting certificates could work, according to Nervtag.
The scientists say a ‘high proportion’ of people who have had Covid will develop immunity preventing them from falling ill again within a month of having been infected.
This protection is likely to last at least three months, although experts are not completely confident of this.
A vaccine too will protect a high proportion of people. But the sticking point is that experts do not yet know if recovered and vaccinated people can still get infected with Covid without falling ill.