The planned Covid-19 vaccine booster programme later this year will ‘very likely’ involve giving the vaccine at the same time as the flu jab, NHS England’s chief executive has said.
NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens added that the campaign is set to run from the start of September to mid-December.
But he stressed details of the programme will not be confirmed until after the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation issues its advice.
Plans to bring in volunteers from St John Ambulance to help with giving vaccinations this winter are also afoot so ‘our NHS workforce capacity doesn’t have an undue strain placed upon it by the addition of that booster campaign,’ according to NHS officials.
An ongoing clinical trial looking at the safety and efficacy of co-administration of the two vaccines – with one given in each arm – is still ongoing, NHS board papers note.
The NHS England plans were revealed during the organisation’s board meeting today. It comes as the health secretary has separately indicated he would like to see GPs delivering fewer vaccines as time goes on.
He said he expected ‘more and more’ of the Covid vaccination programme to be delivered by pharmacies, while noting that GPs needed to be freed up for their day-to-day work.
Speaking during a webinar last night run by Sigma Pharmaceuticals for community pharmacists, Mr Hancock said: ‘I expect us, as we do the booster programme and this winter’s flu, and learning the lessons for the future of how flu and Covid are administered in the medium to long term, that we should move more and more of it towards administration by pharmacies…
‘In terms of the use of our clinical capabilities as a country, you want people to be operating at the top of their licence, and frankly we need GPs to be back in surgeries practising medicine in the normal way, whereas a vaccination can be done by a range of different trained clinicians.’
He added: ‘That’s very much the direction of travel, but it also has to be value for money for the NHS and the taxpayer.’
During NHS England’s board meeting, the organisation’s lead for NHS Covid-19 vaccine deployment said plans for co-administration of the flu and Covid jabs were being drawn up to ‘maximise the uptake for both of those programmes’.
But she noted a clinical trial looking at giving the two jabs together was still underway and JCVI advice was still required.
Emily Lawson, senior responsible officer for NHS Covid-19 vaccine deployment, said: ‘We are working – in advance of the outcome of clinical studies – to make sure we create the opportunity to offer co-administration of flu and Covid vaccines so that we can maximise the uptake for both of those programmes..’
She said NHS England was working with St John Ambulance ‘to make sure that the volunteer workforce that we’ve relied on through the first part of the programme is available through that winter campaign’ so ‘our NHS workforce capacity doesn’t have an undue strain placed upon it by the addition of that booster campaign’.
During the board meeting, NHS England’s Simon Stevens also said: ‘[There is] work, now underway, that we will be firing the starting gun on across the health service, for the autumn booster campaign, where we are very likely to be administering a third Covid booster shot alongside flu vaccinations, subject to advice from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation.
‘That campaign…will be running from the beginning of September through to mid-December and will obviously be an important part of the further immunological wall that we want to put in the way of Covid going into winter.’
Last month, a new UK clinical trial testing seven different vaccines for a third ‘booster’ Covid shot was launched, with plans to report by September.
This story first appeared on our sister title, Pulse.