Vaccination clinics run by family doctors will begin across England from Monday but people have been warned that a rise in cases after Christmas socialising could disrupt the roll out of the jabs. GP practices in more than 100 locations will have the approved Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine delivered to them on Monday, with some offering vaccinations within hours.
Care home residents in Scotland are due to receive the vaccine for the first time on Monday, while NHS England and NHS Improvement said the majority of GPs will begin providing vaccination services to their local community from Tuesday.
NHS staff including nurses and pharmacists will work alongside GPs to inoculate those aged 80 and over, as well as care home workers and residents.
The vaccination centres will operate from doctors’ surgeries or community hubs in villages, towns and cities.
Professor Martin Marshall, chairman of the Royal College of GPs, said: “GPs and our teams are about to embark on an enormous challenge, delivering the Covid-19 vaccination programme in the community whilst also delivering the expanded flu vaccine programme and the usual care and services our patients rely on us for.”
The opening of the community centres comes after dozens of hospital hubs began offering vaccinations from last Tuesday.
The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine is the only one currently approved for use in the UK but the chances of the University of Oxford’s Covid-19 vaccine also being rolled out by the end of this year are “pretty high”, according to lead researcher Sarah Gilbert, who is professor of vaccinology at the university.
The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) is still reviewing trial data for the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab.
Prof Gilbert said it is possible that life could be “more or less” back to normal by next summer – but said it depends on transmission rates in January which she said could be affected by people travelling and mixing with others over Christmas.
Restrictions are due to be relaxed across the UK between December 23 and 27 to allow families to spend time together in “Christmas bubbles” but NHS bosses have warned Prime Minister Boris Johnson that any relaxation of restrictions in England’s tier system could trigger a third wave of cases at the busiest time of the year for hospitals.
Prof Gilbert said the US has seen a surge in infections and deaths after people celebrated Thanksgiving, adding that a similar rise in the UK could also affect the vaccination roll-out.
“It’s not possible to run vaccination clinics when staff are off sick, and there’s a very high transmission rate affecting people’s ability to come to be vaccinated.”
The first review of England’s tier allocation is due take place on Wednesday and NHS Providers, which represents hospital trusts in England, has urged “extreme caution” in moving any area of the country to a lower tier while areas should be moved into the highest tier of restrictions “as soon as this is needed, without any delay”.
A Government spokeswoman said ministers will not “hesitate to take necessary actions to protect local communities”.
Meanwhile, schools in Greenwich have been asked to close from Monday evening and switch to online learning following “exponential growth” of coronavirus in the south east London borough.
In a letter to parents on Sunday, council leader Danny Thorpe said he had asked schools to close as Greenwich’s infection rate was at its highest point since March.
In Wales, secondary schools and colleges will move to online learning from Monday following advice from the Welsh chief medical officer that the public health situation in the country is “deteriorating”.
In London, mayor Sadiq Khan has demanded further Government action to bring the “deeply concerning” surge of cases in the capital under control – calls that include increased testing provision and compensations plans for businesses affected by any further restrictions.
Mr Khan said there had been “significant” coronavirus outbreaks among 10 to 19-year-olds in the capital, and that Government must consider asking schools and colleges to close early ahead of Christmas and reopen later in January.
He was also reported by The Daily Telegraph to be pushing for the capital’s schools to close from Tuesday, with Monday being the last day for the term, four days earlier than scheduled. Mr Khan is also advocating the extension of the winter break by a week till January 11, the paper said.