London, January 7
Supplies of the Oxford University vaccine, produced by AstraZeneca, began expanding to General Practice (GP)-led services in the UK from Thursday to make it easier to protect care home residents and other vulnerable people against COVID-19, the British government said.
As part of a phased rollout since the jabs received regulatory approval last month, the vaccine has been trialled at selected hospitals in the country for surveillance purposes before being sent out to hundreds of community-based local vaccination services.
“The biggest vaccination programme in NHS (National Health Service) history is already off to a strong start with around one million people already vaccinated against coronavirus — this is a credit to our exceptional NHS staff,” said Dr Nikki Kanani, GP and NHS medical director for primary care.
“GPs, nurses, pharmacists and countless other staff and volunteers have been working around the clock to be able to launch almost 200 more sites this week. Combined with the arrival of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine, we will now be able to protect many more vulnerable people against the virus and faster,” she said.
It comes as the UK remains under a strict stay-at-home lockdown as the infection rates from a new variant of coronavirus surged further, with 62,322 new cases and 1,041 deaths recorded on Wednesday.
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said it would be these vaccines that provide the “means of escape” from lockdown and has pledged daily vaccination updates starting next Monday.
Unlike the Pfizer vaccine, the first to be approved for use in the UK last year, the Oxford vaccine does not need to be stored at ultra-low temperatures and is therefore much easier to move, making it easier to use in care homes and to vaccinate the housebound.
NHS England said hundreds of new sites were opening at hospitals and in the community this week in the new phase of the vaccination programme. This is on top of the 700 which were already open and vaccinating, with seven vaccination centres among many more sites coming online next week, along with more hospitals, GP-led services and a number of pilot pharmacy vaccine services.
“Every part of the government and the NHS are working around the clock to rapidly scale up our COVID-19 vaccination programme so we can protect those most at risk from this awful disease as quickly as possible,” said UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock.
“The Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine can be transported easily and I’m delighted care home residents will begin receiving their first Oxford/AstraZeneca jabs this week. More than 1.3 million people have already been vaccinated in the UK, including 23 per cent — or over 650,000 — of the over-80s in England,” he said.
The minister said the government aimed to offer vaccinations to the majority of care home residents by the end of January and all 13 million people in the top four priority cohorts of those at the highest risk of death from the virus by mid-February.
“This will ensure the most vulnerable are protected and will save tens of thousands of lives. As our vaccination programme ramps up, I urge everybody to continue following the latest restrictions to keep cases low and protect loved ones,” he said.
The NHS, which is leading the vaccination programme, said up to 100 hospital more sites are due to come online across the country, subject to final assurance checks, this week. There are also another 180 GP-led services which are also due to come online this week.
The rollout comes after the vaccine was approved for use outside of hospitals by the four Chief Medical Officers of the United Kingdom and NHS England’s Medical Director, Professor Stephen Powis. Care home residents cannot travel to hospital for a jab and Pfizer is difficult to get to hospitals so the latest decision will speed up the drive to vaccinate them.
Care home residents and staff were set as the highest priority group by the independent Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation. In addition to the Oxford jab, local vaccination services are being issued with small packs of Pfizer jabs which can be used in care homes.
“When the vaccine was first issued it had to be shipped in “pizza boxes” containing almost 1,000 doses, meaning that care homes could not be jabbed without wasting supplies,” the NHS said.
GP services are being offered an extra 10 pound for every care home resident vaccinated in January, in a drive to get a majority vaccinated before the end of the month.
“The NHS was the first health service in the world to deliver a COVID-19 vaccination outside of the clinical trial. The NHS was also the first to deliver the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine, jabbing Brian Pinker, 82, at Oxford University Hospital on Monday,” NHS England said.
It added that current and former NHS staff had applied to become vaccinators, with tens of thousands having already completed their online training. They will be deployed as more vaccine supplies become available. PTI