The UK must not shout ‘from the rooftops’ about the covid vaccine supplies it has secured as this could potentially lead to manufacturers diverting supplies away from the country, NHS England chief executive Sir Simon Stevens and deputy chief medical officer Jonathan Van-Tam told NHS leaders last night.

The comments were made on an “urgent webinar” organised at short notice on Sunday evening.

As well as Sir Simon and Professor Van-Tam, briefings were given by chief medical officer Chris Whitty, NHSE medical director Stephen Powis, primary care director Nikki Kanani and vaccination programme lead Emily Lawson.

All clinical commissioning group chairs and accountable officers were invited to the webinar, along with senior NHSE regional directors.

The webinar also heard vaccination delivery needed to be accelerated in London, while the North East and Yorkshire region was performing the best.

Sir Simon said the supply of covid vaccines would be “constrained” by the agreed delivery schedule and batch authorisation process during the five-week period the NHS has been given to inoculate the most vulnerable groups, according to sources present.

This meant it was vital the NHS preserved supplies by only giving one dose of either the Pfizer or Oxford vaccine, rather than the two originally recommended. Any appointments already made to deliver second doses should be cancelled, the webinar was told — a firm message to some practices and hospitals which have continued giving second doses despite guidance being issued last month to allow for 12 weeks between vaccine doses

However, Sir Simon also explained “politicians were keeping away from the rooftops on numbers” related to the supply of vaccines as this could potentially put pressure on pharmaceutical manufacturers and therefore, as a knock-on effect, mean they potentially decide to limit the UK’s supply even further.

Professor Van-Tam backed up Sir Simon’s assertion, warning “diversion” of vaccine supply by manufacturers was “always a risk”, HSJ understands.

HSJ also understands senior government and NHS figures are worried being too transparent on vaccine supply would affect negotiations with manufacturers, who are facing significant pressure from other countries to supply their vaccination efforts. They fear revealing the UK’s hand on vaccine supply would “put a target” on supply numbers which others would then ask for.

The latest information on the number of daily inoculations delivered across England will be published later today, with the first regional information due later this week.

Asked which region was doing the best in providing the covid vaccines, Sir Simon identified the North East and Yorkshire area. He added some other areas need “chivvying”, noting there needed to be an “acceleration across London in the next week”. 

However, he also pointed out the programme was at a relatively early stage.

The NHS is opening its first seven vaccination centres, to vaccinate people aged 80 and health and care staff, today. The “mass” sites are mostly run by NHS trusts, separately from the hundreds of sites coordinated by primary care.

The seven sites are:

  • Excel Centre in London (London);
  • Ashton Gate in Bristol (South West);
  • Epsom racecourse in Surrey (South East);
  • Millennium Point in Birmingham (Midlands);
  • Robertson House in Stevenage (East of England);
  • Etihad Tennis Club in Manchester (North West); and
  • The Centre for Life in Newcastle upon Tyne (North East and Yorkshire).

NHSE also announced this morning: “Hundreds more GP-led and hospital services are also due to open this week along with the first pharmacy-led pilot sites, taking the total to around 1,200.”