Given the logistical challenges inherent to any mass vaccination programme, and especially for the Pfizer vaccine, the British Medical Association (BMA) have said that frontline health and social care workers must be given every opportunity to get vaccinated.
Number 10 announced earlier this week in a press briefing that the rollout of the Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine would be beginning in the coming days. Deputy Chief Medical Officer Professor Jonathan Van-Tam said that the vaccine would arrive in the UK in a matter of "hours, not days."
The Governments order of 40 million doses will be sufficient to vaccinate 20 million people, as the vaccine requires two jabs 21 days apart. Also, The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) published earlier this week their revised vaccination plan, and have given frontline healthcare workers high priority in the order of those who will get access to the vaccine first - just behind residents in a care home for older adults and their carers.
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This is also the policy in the United States as in September the Centers for Disease Control's Vaccination Program interim playbook included healthcare workers as a high priority. But the document also included populations more susceptible to infection other than age, which the updated UK vaccination plan also has incorporated, in referencing that local deployment should 'mitigate health inequalities, such as might occur in relation to access to healthcare and ethnicity.'
Other than healthcare professions, the JVCI's plan references that in the next phase of vaccinations other professions may also be prioritised – such as first responders, the military, those involved in the justice system, teachers, transport workers, and essential public servants responsible for the pandemic response.
Frontline care workers need to be given every opportunity to get vaccinated
Chaand Nagpaul, BMA council chair, welcomed the end in sight of the pandemic and argued that medical health professionals should be given every opportunity to get vaccinated: "It's hugely important that frontline healthcare and social care workers – at the forefront of fighting this terrible virus – are given every opportunity to get the vaccine."
He added: "This is the first of several COVID-19 vaccines to be approved for use, but it's also the one that presents the greatest logistical challenges in terms of storage and immunising patients outside a hospital setting."
"The Government and NHS England must not underestimate the scale of the challenges this programme presents, and we need to make sure staff have the resources and support in place to turn this scientific breakthrough into an operational success."
The logistical challenge that Chaand Nagpaul referred to is that the Pfizer vaccine has to be stored at a temperature of -70% (far colder than any regular refrigeration unit) and cannot be removed from this state more than four times for the vaccine to be viable. And also, the apparent logistical challenge of identifying and immunising a vast amount of people twice, as quickly as possible.
This point was also reflected by Dr Richard Vautry, BMA GPs committee chair, who commented: "With regard to the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine specifically, we need clarification and guidance from both NHS England and the Government on how exactly practices will be involved in this first phase, given the much-publicised practical restraints around storage and transportation."
"Given these challenges – recognised by the JCVI today – some people may have to wait a little longer for a more stable vaccine to become available, and we'd urge the public to be patient. We don't expect practices to be getting any vaccines for at least another two weeks, and we believe the campaign will begin in full force in the New Year."