Vaccine can be split into smaller batches, as Scotland pledges care home rollout
Batches of the newly approved coronavirus vaccine can be split into smaller numbers of doses, the medicines regulator has said, as it emerged Scotland plans to get the jabs into care homes by mid-December.
The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) said on Wednesday that batches could be made smaller, the same day the chief executive of NHS England Sir Simon Stevens told a Downing Street press conference that approval was needed for the vaccine to be safely divided.
A document outlining conditions of authorisation said “further packing down” of batches to aid deployment could occur at 2C to 8C within two hours of leaving cold storage.
Advice from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) says that vaccines should first be offered to elderly people in care homes and care home workers.
On Thursday, Scotland’s Health Secretary Jeane Freeman announced that vaccinations in care homes could begin from Monday December 14.
Ms Freeman said talks over lunchtime had confirmed that the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine could be transported in an unfrozen state for up to 12 hours and could also be broken down into smaller packs in “certain conditions”.
NHS England would not commit to a date to roll the vaccine out in English care homes.
The National Care Forum said the only viable solution for care home residents was to get the jabs “over the threshold”.
A spokeswoman said: “It seems that the Scottish Government has come to a different conclusion and in fact intends to honour the prioritisation outlined by the JCVI and deliver the vaccine directly to Scottish care homes.
“It is not at all clear at this moment why the English Government is not pursuing this path.”
She called for “urgent guarantees” that the other vaccines be delivered on site into care homes if challenges delivering the Pfizer jab were not overcome.
She added: “It’s all very well to ask care homes to be ‘patient’, but having outlined just how life-changing this could be, the patience of residents, relatives and providers shouldn’t be expected to stretch too far.”