Tuesday, 1 Dec 2020

Coronavirus: NHS will administer vaccines before Christmas if one is ready, health boss says

The health service is getting ready to administer COVID-19 vaccines before Christmas if a jab is ready, NHS England’s chief executive has said.

Sir Simon Stevens told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “There are over 200 vaccines in development and we believe that we should hopefully get one or more of those available from the first part of next year.

“In anticipation of that we’re also gearing the NHS up to be ready to make a start on administering COVID-19 vaccines before Christmas, if they become available.”

He said an “agreement” has been reached with GPs to ensure this will happen.

He added: “We will be writing to GP practices this week to get them geared up to start by Christmas if the vaccine becomes available.”

On Tuesday, GP magazine Pulse reported that GPs are being put on standby to start vaccinating over-85s and frontline health workers from the beginning of next month.

A coronavirus vaccine has not yet been approved and it will need to go through regulators to confirm it is safe and effective before it can be offered to the public.

There are two frontrunners that are currently in late-stage clinical trials and could be sending clinical data to regulators within weeks.

These are potential vaccines from German firm BioNtech and US pharmaceutical company Pfizer, and the University of Oxford and AstraZeneca.

Although, Kate Bingham, chair of the UK Vaccine Taskforce, warned the first generation of COVID-19 vaccines “is likely to be imperfect” and “might not work for everyone”.

Last week, she wrote in the Lancet medical journal: “We should be prepared that they might not prevent infection but rather reduce symptoms, and, even then, might not work for everyone or for long.”

It follows warnings from government scientists the NHS will be overwhelmed with thousands more deaths unless action is taken.

Sir Simon said: “In many parts of the country we’re now seeing more coronavirus inpatients in hospital and in intensive care than we saw in the first peak in April.”

He added the health service is “adding as much capacity as it can” in anticipation of the usual winter pressures and COVID patients.

But he said people need to do everything they can to keep the infection rates down to ensure that other services – routine operations and cancer care – can be preserved.

“We are obviously adding as much capacity as we can in anticipation of not only coronavirus but the extra winter pressures that always come along with this time of year,” he said.

“And the reason we want to try and minimise the number of coronavirus infections and patients is not only because of the excess death rate that implies, but because of the knock-on consequences it has for other services – routine operations, cancer care.

“And so if we want to preserve those other services so that the health service can continue to help the full range of patients, we need to do everything we can, together, to keep the infection rate down for coronavirus.”

A committee advising the government on vaccines has already set out which groups should be prioritised for receiving a COVID-19 jab.

Care home residents and workers should be the first to be given any approved vaccine, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation has said.

Afterwards, everyone aged 80 and over and health and social care workers should be next to receive the jab.

Overall, there are more than 200 vaccine candidates in development around the world, with 44 in clinical trials.

Of the 44, nine are in the phase three stage of clinical evaluation and are being given to thousands of people to confirm safety and effectiveness.

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