At an NHS England and Improvement (NHSE&I) press conference today (November 4), CEO Simon Stevens said that, although the "central expectation" is that the "bulk" of COVID-19 vaccines will become available next year, the government is planning for the "off chance" that some vaccines will be available by the end of 2020.
In that case, a "combination" of providers, including pharmacists, GP practices and vaccination centres, will deliver the vaccines. If a vaccine does become available before Christmas, Mr Stevens stressed he is "10/10" confident that providers will be able to "get going with at least some COVID vaccinations".
GPs ready for action
It comes after the GP magazine Pulse reported yesterday (November 1) that a new COVID-19 vaccine Directed Enhanced Service will be announced imminently for GP practices and PCNs to be potentially ready to administer a vaccine from December.
Speaking at the BBC Radio 4 Today Programme this morning, Mr Stevens said the NHS will write to GP practices this week “to get them geared up” to deliver a COVID vaccine “before Christmas if the vaccine becomes available”.
The NHS believes that “one or more” vaccines will become available in “the first part of next year”, Mr Stevens added.
“But 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 and in fact, we have reached an agreement with the GPs to ensure they will be doing that,” he said.
PSNC working to clarify pharmacy's role
The Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC) director of NHS Services Alastair Buxton told C+D today that PSNC is “working with NHSE&I and the DH to agree how pharmacy contractors can play a part in the COVID-19 vaccination programme”.
“Community pharmacy teams have had a central role in the response to the pandemic so far, and this should continue as new treatments and vaccinations become available,” he added.
Pharmacists are among the healthcare professionals who will receive training to administer COVID-19 vaccines, licensed or unlicensed, as soon as they are approved by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency.
In July, health minister Matt Hancock said that pharmacists would have a "massive role to play" in delivering a COVID-19 vaccination once one becomes available.
Importance of flu vaccines
Speaking today at the BBC programme, Mr Stevens stressed the importance of flu vaccines, “given that we now know that having flu and coronavirus together doubles your chance of dying from coronavirus”.
“The good news is GPs are doing a brilliant job, along with chemists. We’ve got 2.5 million people more who’ve had their flu vaccine now compared to the same time last year,” he added.
C+D reported last week that more than 1.7 million flu vaccines have already been administered by community pharmacies so far. This means the sector broke last year’s record within just two months since the service was launched on September 1.