Zimbabwe: Doctors Are Worried That Coronavirus Vaccines Could Be Wasted in the “Chaotic” Roll Out to Gps

Senior medics claim there has been a lack of support from the government given to GPs who have registered to administer the jabs.

The warning came after the UK became the first country to deliver the Pfizer vaccine to patients, with a select group of hospitals vaccinating healthcare staff and patients across the country from Tuesday.

Dr Julia Grace Patterson, head of campaign group Every Doctor, said the failure to support GPs in organising the community programmes could lead to a “lot of wastage,” not least because the vaccine must be ordered in trays of 975 doses, and administered within days.

“If you think about it from the perspective of the GP practices, if you’ve got to get 975, mostly very elderly people, to have a vaccination by coming to your GP surgery within the space of three days that’s a huge administrative task because you have to send out letters or telephone all of these people,” Patterson explained.

“Having to get that number of people vaccinated in such a short period of time is a big challenge and it would have needed a lot of careful planning.”

NHS England wrote to surgeries last week asking them to prepare to deliver the first batches of vaccines from 14 December, with boxes of the Pfizer jab due to arrive in practices over the weekend.

It comes after groups of surgeries, known as primary care networks, were asked in November to work together to select one site in each area to be designated as a vaccine hub and to prepare to run a seven days a week service, from 8am to 8pm.

But concerns around the logistical handling of the vaccine – which must be transported at minus 70°c – and a reduction in other care services have led to some GPs who had previously registered for the scheme refusing to sign the contracts.

In a letter from Dr Nikita Kanani, NHS England’s medical director for primary care, on 7 December, GPs were told practices would have the vaccines delivered the day before their were due to start.

“Vaccines need to be used quickly in the days following delivery and you should start your vaccination clinic as soon as possible,” the letter said.

“We expect the remaining vaccine shelf life once delivered and stored at 2-8 °c to be in the range of 86 hours (3 days 14 hours) to 99 hours (4 days 3 hours).”

The latest advice also confirmed that a GP would have to be present on site during all vaccinations, with practices responsible for identifying and booking in patients aged 80 years and over for the first wave.

But one NHS campaigner said information being provided to practices about the roll out had been changing “nearly hourly”.

“We have certainly heard of logistical challenges and things changing on a near hourly basis in terms of logistics,” they added.

They said that practices had decided not to sign the contracts due to a “lack of suitable premises; insufficient workforce; concerns about the level of risk that sits with primary care” and “whether delivering the programme will cost more than the funding the recieve”.

Every Doctor’s Dr Julia Grace Patterson was emphatic that “doctors really want this vaccine programme to work”

“We are desperate for this COVID situation to be alleviated for everybody but it’s about doing it in a safe way.

“One would hope that in a such an enormous nationwide endeavour we could be employing people who have expertise in logistical planning of this type, because we certainly as a country do have those skills.”

Speaking earlier this month, an NHS England spokesperson said they had had an “incredible response” from GPs across the country who wanted to be involved with the programme.

They added: “A deal has been reached with the British Medical Association to ensure GPs are able to protect their patients with coronavirus vaccines, including £20 million of setup funding for the vaccination programme alongside £150 million for wider general practice capacity.”

But one GP, who wished to remain anonymous, said the “chaotic” handling had left them feeling “terrified” of the potential blowback on their practice.

“We have done our very best to prepare for this major operation because we know how important it is for our patients to get this vaccine, but the last-minute scramble has left us concerned.

“It has been chaotic, frankly. We have known for months that this was coming, but the communications from [NHS England and ministers] have been appalling. We are used to delivering the winter flu vaccine each year, but this is a different ball game entirely.

“It is a Catch-22. We have a mammoth task ahead of us to ensure patients have access to the vaccine under the safest conditions, but we are being offered very little in extra support.”