Scientists working to overcome care home vaccine challenge

The Welsh Government is “currently exploring ways” to get the Pfizer vaccine to care home residents, Wales’ chief medical officer has said.

Dr Frank Atherton said there were “particular challenges” around the vaccine as it requires storage below -70C.

He said there was a clear list of priorities within the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) guidance and all four nations “are intending to follow that priority list and work down it”.

“However, that has to take into account operational concerns. I think it would be scandalous to waste the vaccine and not to use it wisely,” Dr Atherton told a Welsh Government press conference.

“We are currently exploring ways in which we could try to get vaccines to those residents of care homes – certainly the healthcare staff and social care staff will be a very high priority – and we’re looking for ways to work around that, but it is technically quite difficult to achieve that given that we have numerous care homes around the country and the model for delivering this particular vaccine, the Pfizer vaccine, requires a small number of vaccination sites.”

HEALTH Coronavirus
HEALTH Coronavirus

Residents in Wales will be sent automatic appointments detailing the location where they will go to receive the vaccination.

Dr Gill Richardson, co-chair of the Covid-19 Vaccine Programme Board, said told the press conference: “We will be prioritising those that we can safely deliver an effective vaccine to.

“At the very beginning, in the first week of immunisation, we’ll be bringing people to the vaccine and that will include care home staff.

“And then as we learn more about the vaccine – and we are all learning at a UK level – it’s very much hoped that a mobile model can be developed so that we can safely deploy to care homes without putting care home residents at risk of bringing them to a centre unnecessarily.”

The vaccine will not be mandatory and people would be able to choose whether they take it or not, with information provided before vaccination.

Those receiving the vaccine will be given a credit card-sized NHS Wales immunisation card which will have the vaccine name, date of immunisation and batch number of each of the doses given written on them.

These will act as a reminder for the second dose and for the type of vaccine, as well as giving information on how to report side effects.

Pfizer signage (Dan Kitwood/PA)
Pfizer signage (Dan Kitwood/PA)

Dr Atherton said the Pfizer vaccine would initially be delivered at a “small number of sites” in Wales.

“There are, of course, other vaccines in the pipeline, the Oxford vaccine for example, which doesn’t have such stringent requirements around temperatures management and control,” he said.

“As that comes online, as we hope, that will give us further ability to work our way through those priority lists.

“I can’t give you an exact date or a timeframe but we are working through that process as quickly as we can because those elderly residents are one of our highest priorities.”