GPs in England are to be paid an extra £10 for every care home resident they vaccinate against Covid, in an attempt to protect the most vulnerable people in the top priority group before the end of January.
Around two-thirds of the people vaccinated so far have been care home residents – 524,439 of the total of 786,000. Even though they are in the top priority group, they have been harder to reach because many cannot travel to hospitals or vaccination centres from where the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine is administered, either because they are frail or because there are not enough staff to take them.
But the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine, which was approved on Wednesday, is easier to deploy than the Pfizer one. Because it can be stored in an ordinary fridge and is safe at room temperature for hours, GPs will be able to take enough doses to a care home to vaccinate all the residents and staff.
The bonus payments for residents vaccinated before the end of January are an incentive for a big push to increase the number of vaccinations in the next four weeks. Most residents should be vaccinated by the end of the month and all should have an appointment by then, NHS England has said.
Dr Nikki Kanani, a GP and the NHS medical director for primary care, said: “Three-quarters of a million people have now received the Pfizer vaccine thanks to the tireless efforts of NHS staff who have given up time with their families over Christmas to deliver vaccines at the same time as treating record numbers of seriously ill patients with Covid-19.
“As we head into the new year with a second vaccine that is also more versatile we will be able to expand the programme and ensure that the majority of care home residents are protected within the next four weeks or so.
“It is also great news that we will be able to begin vaccinating NHS staff serving on the frontline to protect them against coronavirus.”
Those in the priority groups who can travel will get appointments at the increased number of vaccination centres being set up. More than 700 GP-run centres and hospital hubs are now offering jabs across the country.
NHS organisations have been asked to start vaccinating nurses, doctors and other staff as soon as additional supplies become available. Until now they were only being vaccinated if doses were not going to be used by others in time.
There should be no shortage of vaccines available, because everybody will be offered a first shot, with the second shot being given after 12 weeks rather than three or four. The delay will allow time for more Pfizer doses to arrive from Europe or Oxford doses to be delivered from UK factories.
The vaccines have been given temporary emergency approval by the UK’s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Authority, a fast-track process which means that every batch has to be separately certified for quality on arrival. So far, 530,000 doses of the Oxford vaccine have been validated for use out of 4m that are in the country.
The European Medicines Agency has given full emergency authorisation for the Pfizer vaccine, which means that doses arriving in member states do not need batch approval. It is still considering authorisation of the Oxford vaccine.