Public urged to ‘remain vigilant’ after vaccine milestone

Doctors and NHS leaders have urged the public to remain “vigilant” against Covid-19 after the announcement of the breakthrough in the coronavirus vaccine race.

NHS Providers, which represents organisations across the health service, said the development from Pfizer and BioNTech was “welcome news” but it said that “we will have to remain vigilant for some time to come”.

And it added that administering any new vaccine could be a “challenge”.

But the British Medical Association (BMA) said that GPs “stand ready” to deliver a vaccine even though there are still a number of processes which need to be completed before the first patients will receive the vaccine.

Dr Richard Vautrey, chairman of the BMA’s GP committee in England, said: “GPs and their teams know how vital a safe, effective vaccine will be in defeating Covid-19, and we are all encouraged by this breakthrough – which brings widespread protection a step closer.

“With a number of approval processes still to go, we are a long way from guaranteeing that vaccinations in local surgeries will begin in December – but practices, working together in their areas, will stand ready.

“We know this will be a significantly challenging undertaking, particularly as staff are already struggling with ever-increasing workloads and staff burnout from the first wave of the pandemic.

“Therefore, practices will need support both nationally and locally, as well as patience and understanding from the public as they embark on this unprecedented campaign.

“As they often do, practices will step up to the challenge, but now need reassurance and details from NHS England as soon as possible around the programme so they have plenty of time to prepare for an intense few months ahead.”

BMA public health medicine committee co-chairwoman Dr Penelope Toff added: “While this is hopeful news, we must not forget that the reality on the ground now is that NHS staff are being pushed to their limits.

“It remains absolutely crucial that we all continue to follow the current guidance, particularly on not mixing with other households and that we all keep to the practices we know work best for infection control.”

NHS Providers chief executive Chris Hopson said: “We welcome the news about the Pfizer vaccine being potentially available by the end of the year.

“An effective vaccine is a key weapon in the fight against Covid-19 and the news will be welcomed by our members providing frontline NHS care.

“But, there is no clear timeframe on when it will be made available and there will initially be enough doses for around a third of the population.

“Although this will mean that those people in the highest priority and highest risk groups will have access to the vaccine, we will have to remain vigilant for some time to come.

“We have to continue to follow the rules and wash our hands regularly, follow social distancing guidelines and wear a face covering when required.

“As we’ve seen with NHS Test and Trace, we must also fully recognise the logistical challenges of delivering a brand new, universal, public service at pace.

“Actually administering the vaccine to the right patients, at the right time, on this scale, will be an enormous challenge.”