Red tape should be stripped away to allow retired health workers help the coronavirus vaccine effort and vaccination centres should open around the clock to meet the target of immunising 30 million people by the summer, ministers have been told.
So far, GPs and hospital staff have injected nearly 950,000 people with a first dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, and the approval of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine should mean tens of millions more doses will become available in the coming weeks and months.
“This is now a race against time and there isn’t a moment to lose,” said Jonathan Ashworth, the shadow health secretary. “We need ministers to move heaven and earth to roll out vaccination starting with 2m jabs a week to save lives and hit the government’s spring promise of easing restrictions.”
GPs have called for greater clarity on the role they’re expected to play in delivering these vaccines, stressing that they will be unable to hit the summer target without additional resources.
Despite talk of mass vaccination centres operating at football stadiums and race courses, GPs had been provided with very little information about how these would operate and who would run them, said Prof Martin Marshall, the chair of the Royal College of GPs. “It would be useful to know what the plans are, and it would certainly be useful to know what general practice is expected to deliver,” he said.
“If we’re going to get 30 million people vaccinated twice in six months, which I think is probably realistic, this can’t just be done by general practice. The workforce isn’t big enough to allow for that and to deliver business as usual for people who are acutely ill, those with long-term conditions, childhood vaccinations, as well as cervical cancer screening and all that kind of stuff as well.”
He called for an urgent conversation about the role that retired medical personnel might play. “We’ve got tens of thousands of recently retired GPs, physicians, surgeons, nurses who are desperate to come back, even as unpaid volunteers, and they are being desperately put off by the bureaucratic process which is preventing them from doing so,” Marshall said.
“Some of these bureaucratic demands are ridiculous, such as the requirement to be certified in fire safety, or preventing radicalisation. There are people who have experience of giving a jab and dealing with anaphylaxis if someone had an allergic reaction, so you don’t need to see their O-level certificates or many of the other bits of paperwork they are being asked for.”
Others urged the government to draw on expertise from the military and manufacturing supply chains. “Medics do what they are trained to do, but they are not trained to be logisticians,” said Dr Bharat Pankhania, an expert in communicable disease at the University of Exeter who was also involved in the response to the 2009 swine flu pandemic. “We need to harness this knowledge and skill that comes from other sectors but which we could easily deploy [to rapidly deliver vaccines].”
A spokesperson for the Ministry of Defence said the military had not yet been approached about assisting in the delivery of Covid vaccines, although about 130 medically qualified military personnel had been placed on standby. “The armed forces have personnel including specialist planners, logisticians and medics, ready to support responses to the outbreak if required,” they said.
Another strategy that should be considered was 24/7 vaccine delivery, Pankhania said. “I appreciate that elderly or infirm people can’t be immunised at 3am, but there are many fit and healthy people who would willingly go to a place which is well-lit, well-directed, well-run at 3am, because it is better to get the vaccine than not to,” he said.
“When you make it a 24/7 operation, you are also giving a clear signal that the government means business, that this is a strategy to get the country back on its feet as fast as possible, but that people must observe infection control practice in the meantime.”