• Sources tell HSJ most NHS staff will no longer be the first to receive covid vaccine
  • People aged over 80 and care home staff to be prioritised instead, according to senior NHS sources
  • U-turn creates new logistical challenges and may disappoint NHS staff

NHS staff are no longer the top priority for receiving the first covid-19 vaccine, and most are now unlikely to get the jab before Christmas, HSJ has learned.

Several senior sources have told HSJ that people aged over 80 who are at hospitals for other reasons will now be the top priority for the first batches to arrive of the Pfizer/Biontech vaccine, which are due to arrive in coming days. They will be followed in the priority order by care home staff.

NHS staff will be the next priority to receive the vaccine, but limited stocks are expected to mean most of them will now not receive it until after Christmas.

In recent days, NHS plans had assumed NHS staff would receive this vaccine, known by the codename “courageous”. This is because it is only being sent to 50 “hub hospital” sites, due to the logistical challenges of correctly storing, handling and transferring it, most of which must be done at very low temperatures. 

The 50 “hospital hubs” were therefore told the first to get it would mostly be NHS hospital staff, as HSJ  revealed last week, and had been planning on that basis until last night.

However, yesterday the NHS was effectively overruled on this, when the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation and government said over 80s and care home staff must be prioritised, despite the logistical challenges.

Some NHS staff will still be vaccinated from next week — for example where trusts have spare vaccine and can’t achieve giving it to more care staff or over-80s, because of logistics or potentially lack of demand — but the numbers are now expected to be strictly limited.

Care home residents — despite being top of the JCVI’s list — will still not be among the first to get it, because the logistics of getting it to them have not been overcome, under the NHS’ current plans. The government and NHS have said that they will begin vaccinating care residents as soon as they think it is possible.

Earlier planning, before it became clear that Pfizer/Biontech’s vaccine would be the first to arrive, had assumed over 80s and care home staff would be prioritised, as per JCVI recommendations, but that this first work would be led by primary care, which would take it to care homes. This will now become much easier, and will begin on mass, when the vaccine developed by Oxford/AstraZeneca is approved and delivered.

Senior local staff involved in the early vaccination campaign were told of the new plans on a call last night.

HSJ  understands NHS England chief executive Sir Simon Stevens told local NHS leaders on the call that “the baton has been passed from the scientists to the NHS”, and said the NHS is now “ready to deliver”.

Senior local leaders told HSJ  the unexpected change to guidance yesterday presents major logistical challenges — including gearing up many outpatients over-80 to be vaccinated, and getting care home staff to the right place — and would be disappointing to NHS staff who had expected to be vaccinated soon.   

The Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency announced the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine had been approved for use in the UK yesterday.

But the prime minister and NHS England yesterday stressed early availability would be limited, with deliveries of only 800,000 doses secured initially. It is hoped that, as long as supplies continue, and particularly if Oxford/Astrazeneca’s vaccine is licensed, that mass vaccination including other groups will begin early in the near year.

2021 HSJ Patient Safety Congress and Awards

The Patient Safety Congress, taking place on 12-13 July 2021, brings together over 1,000 people with the shared aim of transforming patient safety. It draws together contributions from patient speakers, safety experts from healthcare and other safety critcal industries, and frontline innovators, to challenge and drive forward on patient safety. You will be part of influential conversations with those responsible for driving the new national strategy on patient safety and take away real solutions that you can adopt to improve outcomes where you work.