Call for patience over vaccine rollout to care homes

Vaccine experts have called for patience and said the priority list is designed to be flexible, as it was suggested that care home residents will not be included in the first wave of the rollout.

Professor Anthony Harnden, deputy chairman of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), said its coronavirus vaccine priority list was designed to be “flexible”.

Care homes and the elderly are at the top of the list but logistical issues with the Pfizer/BioNTech jab mean there are difficulties in getting it to residents.

There is not yet approval from the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) to split the vaccine boxes containing 975 doses, meaning some would be wasted if sent to individual residential homes.

And England’s deputy chief medical officer, Professor Jonathan Van-Tam, said it would not be viable to get individual doses of the Pfizer jab to elderly people unable to leave their homes.

Prof Harnden said the JCVI had always been aware of potential logistical issues around administering the Pfizer jab, but that its remit was deciding on priority groups.

HEALTH Coronavirus
HEALTH Coronavirus

Experts suggested care home residents, and elderly people who cannot leave their own homes, may have to wait for other vaccines to be approved.

Liam Smeeth, professor of clinical epidemiology at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said he hoped this would make it easier to vaccinate priority groups.

The non-executive director of MHRA told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “Yes, I think you’re right (that care homes are unlikely to be part of the first wave of vaccine rollouts).

“The logistics are going to have to be based around what we can achieve.”

He added: “Hopefully other vaccines will be coming on licence and approved as safe with time, very quickly indeed, and we will be able to vaccinate the wider groups that are currently recommended.”

Prof Harnden said he understood the news about care home delays would be disappointing for residents and their families, but asked for “a very small degree of patience” in delivering a new vaccine.

He told the Today Programme “We have got an exciting vaccine, we have got others that are in the pipeline and we fully expect the programme and our priority list to be rolled out in the very near future, so I think the very short-term practical difficulties of getting this out from a storage point of view should not let us all lose sight of the fact that these care home residents and their staff are our utmost priority – and it may well be possible to get the care home staff to be immunised within a local hospital setting.”

Deputy chief medical officer for England Jonathan Van-Tam (PA Video/PA)
Deputy chief medical officer for England Jonathan Van-Tam (PA Video/PA)

He added: “We have advised in our statement that there is flexibility at an approach to this list according to what was actually feasible and logistical on the ground, so this is not wholly unexpected, but the clear list that we have drawn out is a list of priority in terms of vulnerability.”

Prof Van-Tam told BBC Breakfast he has told his 78-year-old mother, who calls him Johnny, that she must get vaccinated as soon as she can.

He suggested people who cannot leave their homes may need to wait for the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine.

He said of the Pfizer jab: “This is one where there are strict rules about the number of times the vaccine can be taken out of the fridge and moved into what we call ambient room temperatures, and so it is going to make it very very difficult, in fact not viable, to take it into individual people’s home if they are house-bound.”

He told BBC Breakfast that if they can they “absolutely will” get the Pfizer jab into care homes, but the Oxford vaccine would be easier to deploy.

He added that he is hoping the Oxford vaccine will be approved by Christmas, which he said is “much easier to split into smaller quantities and probably can go into people’s homes”.