The UK is set to obtain sufficient quantities to begin immunising the 20 million most vulnerable people before the end of the year, but there are logistical problems ahead.
I hadn’t expected any Covid-19 vaccine to come on stream before the spring of 2021. Then, without warning, on 3 November UK general practice was told to begin immediate preparations to deliver a coronavirus immunisation campaign from early December. Something seismic must have been happening behind the scenes. Quite how seismic was revealed six days later, with the announcement from the US pharmaceutical giant Pfizer that its partnership with the innovative German company BioNTech had produced a vaccine with a stunning 90 per cent efficacy at protecting against Covid-19.
I have been critical of many aspects of the UK government’s response to the pandemic, but its decision to hedge its bets with six different promising vaccines has proven wise. One of those six was the Pfizer/ BioNTech product. As a result, we are set to obtain sufficient quantities to begin immunising the 20 million most vulnerable people before the end of the year, subject to regulatory approval.
When, in June, the UK’s Recovery trial proved that the cheap steroid dexamethasone reduced deaths from severe Covid-19 by up to a third, it was the first good news we had received since the start of the pandemic. But the prospect of an effective vaccine has provoked an entirely different level of optimism within the health service. It feels like an incredible tonic as we advance deeper into what is anticipated to be the most challenging winter many of us will ever have faced professionally.
The UK government appears to have learned lessons from the dismal performance of the privately run “NHS” Track and Trace, and is looking to existing public services to deliver the Covid vaccination campaign. There is talk of a parallel new national service run, one anticipates, by yet another exorbitantly expensive yet ineffectual outsourcing company. But at least our network of established general practices is to be in the vanguard. Even as I write, there are thousands of GPs and practice managers across the country – all highly experienced and effective at organising immunisation programmes – working on the logistics.
The vaccine’s reported storage requirements and short shelf-life mean that most individual surgeries will be too small to churn through the number of jabs that will need to be administered each day. Unlike any other immunisation campaign we run, then, the Covid service will have to be offered from designated practices on behalf of all neighbouring surgeries. Over the past few years, general practice has been reorganised into primary care networks – groups of surgeries serving 30,000-50,000 patients – meaning, thankfully, we already have the framework for this novel approach.
[See also: Anjana Ahuja on why new Covid vaccines offer cause for hope and concern]
The government will have to get the details right, though. This will be a huge additional workload, so we need the suspension of all non-essential activities and bureaucracy. And …read more
Source:: New Statesman