GP surgeries in England have been told to prepare to start staffing COVID-19 vaccination centres by 14 December.
A letter sent to all surgeries and primary care leads from NHS England and NHS Improvement says the “scale and complexity” of the coronavirus vaccination programme – which begins at dozens of hospital hubs next week – would make it “one of the greatest challenges the NHS has ever faced”.
The letter adds: “It is crucial we start to activate local vaccination services to allow priority patient cohorts to start accessing the vaccine.”
Each designated site that is to be staffed by GPs must be ready to deliver 975 doses of the vaccine in the week beginning 14 December.
That number of doses is how many are in each of the supplied packs of the BioNTech/Pfizer vaccine.
The letter was signed by Dr Nikita Kanani, medical director for primary care at NHS England and NHS Improvement, and Ed Waller, director of primary care at the same institutions.
Coronavirus vaccinations are due to start as early as next Tuesday at around 50 hospital hubs, which will begin administering around 800,000 jabs – with the over-80s and care home staff the first in line to receive one.
Healthcare professionals will then work their way down the priority list as more doses of the jab become available.
The size of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine packs has posed a logistical problem, in terms of how they can be broken up and distributed to other key sites such as care homes.
The vaccine must be stored at between -70C and -80C and can also only be moved up to four times, presenting what Prime Minister Boris Johnson has described as a “huge logistical challenge”.
Speed is also of the essence with this particular vaccine, as doses will only remain stable at fridge temperatures of between 2C-8C for a limited period of time. It means doses at the vaccination sites must be given to priority patients within three-and-a-half days of delivery on 14 December.
NHS England and NHS Improvement said the number of vaccination sites in each clinical commissioning group (CCG) area will vary according to the number of residents it has who are over 80.
Centres will be supplied with the “IT equipment necessary to deliver the programme and a fridge”, the letter says.
It adds: “We will be writing to sites identified as part of wave one on Monday, setting out full details of vaccine supply dates, delivery of other consumables and equipment to the site, and the process for assuring readiness before delivery of vaccines.”
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