You may have seen headlines in the news this week about the forthcoming plans to roll out COVID-19 vaccinations across the country. The headlines are predictably somewhat premature as there are many details yet to be finalised, but we are starting to get queries from patients so felt it best that we keep you up to date with what we know:
Headlines last week spoke of “Covid vaccine by Xmas from GPs”. What does this mean for me?
A: Whilst we certainly would want to be involved in any vaccination campaign, we don’t have any formal information ourselves yet and no dates have been set for the start of the vaccination programme, nor how exactly this will be run. We expect more information on this soon.
Will you be getting paid to vaccinate us?
A: GPs hold a contract with the NHS to provide certain services. The money from that contract pays for the building, the heating and electricity, the nurses, receptionists and staff, clinical equipment and a variety of other expenses that go with providing services to patients.
If the government wants GPs to do something new, (e.g. deliver a new vaccine) it will buy that service from the GP to pay for the extra staff, clinics and hours to cover expenses. It is very unlikely that GPs will make a profit out of the Covid vaccine.
Based on the limited information currently available they may well make a loss, but recognise that it is the right thing to do for their patients and communities. But what we don’t know is what we might have to consider stopping doing to free up time to provide this vaccination service, given that we are already working at significantly higher levels than is usual for this time of year.
But isn’t it just like a flu jab?
A: No, not by a long stretch. Flu jabs are delivered in their own little syringes, and kept refrigerated. They can safely last in a vaccine fridge for several months. We can keep them and use them, either in dedicated flu clinics or opportunistically if we see you for something else.
We can run the clinics a bit like a conveyor belt, as I’m sure many of you will have experienced. We can get a large number of people vaccinated in a very short period of time. People then leave the practice immediately. Once a year, job done.
So what’s different about a new Covid vaccine compared with the flu jab?
A: These new vaccines are not yet ready, and we don’t know yet exactly when they will be. They are completely different. They need to be stored frozen in special dry ice, much colder than a normal freezer (about -80°C). Surgeries don’t have these freezers. So they will be delivered whilst they are defrosting for use. However they can only be stored in a vaccine fridge for a few days before expiring.
They don’t come in their own little syringes. We will have to carefully draw them up from a main vial, dilute and mix them for each individual which will probably take from start to finish about 20 minutes, needing two members of staff (one to draw up, one to check – this is established safe practice with these preparations to minimise the risk error).
Once you have received your Covid jab you will have to wait in the building for 15 minutes to ensure you are then ok to go – these vaccines are brand new, and whilst there is a huge regulatory framework to ensure their safety, we will have to take extra care. This in itself will be difficult as we have to maintain social distancing and we don’t know how quickly these clinics will take place. It will be nowhere near as quick as a flu clinic.
Will these clinics be happening at Barlow Medical Centre?
A: To begin with, NHS England thinks that areas will have one central Covid vaccination centre. This potentially might be in a local practice, but the practicalities of running this alongside our normal practice activities look rather complex at present. It might be in a local centre run by NHS Manchester. You may have to travel. How the chosen centre will continue to look after its patients ongoing and urgent health needs, we don’t yet know. No details of those plans have been shared yet.
Is it just one jab?
A: No. You will need two jabs. They will be 3-4 weeks apart which is important to ensure the immune system responds properly to the vaccine.
How many patients will get it the vaccine when it’s ready?
A: Government says it wants 40 million people vaccinated (that’s 80 million appointments). Putting that into context, every year there are 40 million A&E attendances and 360 million GP appointments.
This is going to take a long time. There are no spare GPs or practice nurses, in fact there are significant shortages of both of these. We don’t yet know how we are going to plan for this on top of what we are doing now – managing hundreds of acute and chronic patients every day: on the phone, over video and being brought into the surgery where necessary.
Will it be available by Christmas?
A: No one knows yet. But if it is, there will be a very small number of doses and we think the Government might suggest protecting Care Home residents first. Whatever you read in the paper or online, don’t forget – this is going to be very difficult. We need to make sure there is a safe system and a safe vaccine first. Even when it comes, it won’t prevent Covid-19 completely, it will only make its effects milder. So please bear with us – there is much we don’t yet know either.
The bottom line is that there is still every reason to think ‘Hands, Face, Space’ for a long time to come, well into 2021. We will share more information with you all as and when we have further details.