The government has set a target to have every care home resident in England vaccinated against coronavirus by the end of January. It is driving this ambitious aim through an incentivisation initiative that pays GPs £10 for every COVID-19 vaccine they administer to those in this priority group.
It follows the approval of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine, which is easier to transport than the Pfizer alternative. This new jab can be stored in an ordinary fridge and is still effective after being at room temperature for hours.
This enables a much more straightforward rollout as GPs can take supplies into care homes and not rely on residents travelling to hospitals or clinics to be vaccinated. With the Pfizer jab, frailty and staff constraints meant not all of those in care homes could have the vaccine administered.
Putting bonus payments behind the drive to immunise residents shows NHS England’s commitment to a big push in protecting this demographic. Anyone who lives in a care home and hasn’t received a jab by the end of the month should have received an appointment by then and know when they will get their first vaccination.
Dr Nikki Kanani, a GP and the NHS medical director for primary care, said: “As we head into the new year with a second vaccine that is also more versatile we will be able to expand the programme and ensure that the majority of care home residents are protected within the next four weeks or so.”
The decision has been made to prioritise administering first doses of vaccines over ensuring recipients get their second jab. This will mean double the number of people will have a basic level of immunity, with booster injections expected to be rolled out 12 weeks after the initial shot instead of after three or four weeks.
In the meantime, more doses of the Pfizer vaccine will arrive from Europe and the Oxford version will be manufactured at factories in the UK. The fast-track temporary emergency approval by the UK’s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Authority means each batch must be certified separately to guarantee quality.
The decision about who should be in the priority group during this initial phase of vaccination was taken by the government under advice from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation. It put those over the age of 80 and residents and staff at care homes at the top of the list.
Some 786,000 vaccines were administered between December 8th and 27th 2020, with two-thirds of the recipients aged 80 or over. Equating to 524,439 individuals, that means one in five people in this age group had been vaccinated coming into 2021.