NHS ‘working incredibly hard’ to ensure it is ready to deploy Covid vaccine

The NHS is “working incredibly hard” to ensure it is ready to deliver coronavirus vaccines as soon as they are given regulatory approval, its national medical director in England has said.

The comments from Professor Stephen Powis came as it was announced that the coronavirus vaccine from Pfizer is 95% effective and has passed its safety checks.

Pfizer said it is “in discussions” with UK regulator the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).

Prof Powis told a Downing Street data briefing the health service is working to get ready to deploy different vaccines as soon as trials are finished and regulators have given approval.

He said this would be through traditional vaccine routes such as GPs and pharmacies and also dedicated vaccination centres.

Coronavirus – Wed Nov 18, 2020
Coronavirus – Wed Nov 18, 2020

The health service is also working to ensure there are enough workers to deliver the vaccination programme, including St John Ambulance volunteers.

Following a question from the PA news agency, Prof Powis said: “The NHS has been working incredibly hard to ensure that we are ready to deploy vaccines and to make sure vaccines can be delivered as soon as the vaccine trials have finished, and the regulators have looked at the data and given an approval for the use of vaccines.

“We will be using our traditional vaccine routes – so general practices, likely community pharmacy – but we will also be looking at other ways of delivering vaccination such as vaccine centres.

“The vaccines that are at the forefront of the production of vaccines – so the Pfizer vaccine you will have heard of in the press recently (and others) – have different characteristics and the way they can be transported and the way they can be delivered is different.

“So we are planning for different types of vaccine, and the plans around the delivery mechanisms will be contingent on particular vaccine and of course the data that comes from the trials, and the advice of regulators.”

He said more information would be issued in coming days but added: “Meanwhile we’re working hard, we’re ensuring that we have the workforce to do this – we have talked about general practice who are stepping up for this, but St John’s, for instance, are also recruiting volunteers so we have additional vaccine workforce.”

Dr Susan Hopkins of Public Health England (PHE) was asked by PA whether the Government intended for every adult who wants a vaccine to get one, and responded that the Joint Committee for Vaccinations and Immunisations advises on who should be first in line for vaccination.

“They have laid those as interim priorities,” she said.

“The full priorities will be laid out once the vaccine is known.”

Work has been going on behind the scenes to ensure staff are ready to start delivering jabs to the most vulnerable, as well as health and care workers, as a priority.

Mass vaccination clinics have been proposed, with a number of venues suggested, including sports halls, leisure centres and even the Copper Box Arena in London’s Olympic Park.

NHS Nightingale hospitals have also been earmarked.

The NHS Nightingale Hospital in Harrogate
The NHS Nightingale Hospital in Harrogate

NHS leaders have also said “roving teams” will be deployed to vaccinate care home residents and workers.

Consideration has also been given to the storage of the vaccine, with the Pfizer version needing to be stored at between minus 70C and minus 80C.

On Monday Dr Mary Ramsey, head of immunisation at PHE, said if it is approved for NHS use it will be stored at hubs – including hospitals and wholesalers – and then sent to vaccination clinics and GP surgeries.

Once delivered to GPs it can be stored in their usual refrigeration systems for a number of days.

Discussions about vaccine preparedness will have also focused on how to get people to return for any subsequent doses – the Pfizer vaccine needs to be given in two doses between 21 and 28 days apart.

Vaccine transport has also been taken into consideration, as well as the additional personal protective equipment (PPE) needed for staff delivering the vaccines.