The NHS could be forced to waste coronavirus vaccines if it does not offer leeway for medics to vaccinate beyond the designated at-risk groups.
The current cohort is group seven of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation’s priority list, which takes in 60- to 64-year-olds. Over-65s, health workers, the clinically vulnerable, and care home residents should already have been offered the jab.
But the success and speed of the vaccination programme has seen some of those delivering it left with empty clinics and spare doses after reaching the end of the list for their eligible cohorts, and now medics are asking for permission to continue vaccinating into the next group should that occur.
Dr Rosie Shire, who works as a GP in Cheshire, has also been running a pop-up vaccination clinic. The uptake has been so successful that a few weeks ago, she finished vaccinating cohort 4 and asked if she could progress to cohort 5.
Dr Shire says this was refused and her clinic was informed it must help other local practices by diverting any leftover vaccines.
Diverting supplies to places in need, as the guidance states, sounds sensible but in practice it can be difficult to arrange at short notice given the vaccine’s short shelf life and the sub-zero temperatures that the Pfizer vials must be kept at.
Dr Shire, who has transported the Oxford/Astra Zeneca vaccine for home visits, said: “I believe there has been a list of limitations on moving it between vaccine sites.”
Dr Shire has been careful not to risk any wastage, but says she has heard rumours of places that have had to throw away doses because of these rules.
Dr Shire says there were also unconfirmed rumours earlier in the programme that anyone who reached the end of their cohort would not be paid for delivering second vaccinations ahead of the official go-ahead, and even risked losing their licences.
She said: “If you could say: ‘Well, you know what, let’s use some second vaccines in this case because there’s three people in the clinic next door who can just have it,’ then it would be done.”
She says the issue is creating bottlenecks each time a new cohort is sanctioned, before once again trickling to a halt while the rest of the country catches up.
Speaking on behalf of the Doctors’ Association, she told HuffPost UK: “We had a backup plan, we had it from early on. When you are actually holding a vial, it feels like gold. You’re so scared of dropping it because you know they are so precious. We just do not want them to go to waste – they definitely need to be used.”
Dr Shire’s clinic recently reached the end of its quota for the day and found itself in possession of a spare dose.
She said: “The vaccine clinic I’ve worked in is in a big community building which has a library and leisure services. I had one dose left and I knew it needed to be used. I rushed around and found the manager of that building and we gave it to him. We reasoned he is going to be public-facing and he’s in a community role. I was trying to think creatively.
“It’s going to be hard for someone who finds themselves with three doses left at the end of the day. I was determined not to waste it but that was my choice. Someone else might have to go straight home at the end of the day, so what do you do?”
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