GP surgeries have been told to be ready to start staffing Covid-19 vaccination centres by 14 December.
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In a letter sent out across England’s primary care networks, NHS England and NHS Improvement warned the “scale and complexity” of the immunisation programme would make it “one of the greatest challenges the NHS has ever faced”.
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. “It is crucial we start to activate local vaccination services to allow priority patient cohorts to start accessing the vaccine,” it said.
The vaccination sites must be ready to administer 975 doses of the vaccine to priority patients within three and a half days of delivery on 14 December.
Speed is of the essence with the vaccine, as it is usually stored at -70C and will only remain stable at fridge temperatures of between 2C-8C for a limited period. There are 975 doses in each of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine packs, which has posed a logistical problem of how they can be broken up and distributed to other key sites, such as care homes.
The first people to receive the vaccine in the centres will be those aged 80 and over, as long as their other risk factors, “clinical or otherwise”, have been taken into account.
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. CCGs have been asked to consider inequalities and deprivation – some of the biggest Covid-19 risk factors – when choosing the sites.
Each centre will also be supplied with “IT equipment necessary to deliver the programme and a fridge”, the letter said.
It added: “We will be writing to sites identified as part of wave 1 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.”
It said staff at the vaccination sites would be provided with training, and be “given full support to mobilise within the timescale”.
The staff at the first sites to open are due to get login details for the IT system set up to deliver the vaccination programme “as soon as possible”.
CCGs were told they must “offer all possible assistance” to the vaccine sites as the programme gets under way, including helping them with logistics and setting up clinical waste arrangements.
They were also warned that while urgent care must be provided by GPs even when the vaccine is being delivered, the vaccination programme must be their top priority.