A Conservative MP has called for a new contract for the Covid vaccination programme that ‘guarantees’ rural GP practices will receive only the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine.
Huw Merriman said in an urgent question in the Commons last week (21 January) that the vaccine has been ‘slow to reach’ residents living in the rural areas of his East Sussex constituency, with ‘only one’ surgery vaccinating in ‘the 200 square miles’ he represents.
As one of three questions on support for rural areas, Mr Merriman asked health secretary Matt Hancock: ‘Can we draw up a new vaccine contract for GPs that guarantees that they will receive only AstraZeneca, and not Pfizer, which they find difficult to store?
‘Many GPs in my area tell me that they will sign the contract if they can get AstraZeneca only, so it would be just like the pharmacy contract.’
NHS England has so far commissioned 200 pharmacy sites to take part in the programme, with all due to be supplied with the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine – a move that has been criticised by some GPs, who say they can deliver more vaccine than they are receiving.
Matt Hancock told Mr Merriman: ‘I will take into account the point that the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine is easier to deliver in rural areas, and the request for some people to be able to do that. At the moment, however, we must use the contract that we have.’
A spokesperson for NHS England also told Management in Practice today (25 January) that there are ‘no plans to change the contract at this time’.
Mr Merriman also called for the remaining priority groups for the vaccine – cohorts five to nine – to be sent to the mass vaccination centres, leaving local GP surgeries to focus on administering second doses to the first four priority groups, ‘who are more vulnerable’.
He said: ‘Can we ensure that the latter priority groups go to the hubs, because those groups will find it easier to travel, and that we use our local GP surgeries to re-dose priority groups 1 to 4?’
He also asked that the Government give more ‘forward-looking supply levels’ to county teams so that they have ‘indicative estimates to enable them to plan better on the ground’.
This comes as practices have called for more transparency around vaccine supply and distribution, with some expressing concern over the ‘unpredictability’ of deliveries.
Matt Hancock told Mr Merriman that the issue is ‘lumpy supply’ of vaccines.
He said that while the manufacturers are working ‘incredibly hard to deliver the supply as fast as possible’, it is ‘challenging’ and therefore ‘not possible to give certainty as far our as many GPs and those who are delivering on the ground would like’.
‘The worst thing would be to give false certainty. We do try to give information about what is coming next week, but until the supply smooths out, as I am sure it will over time, going further out than that would give false certainty,’ he added.
‘The worst thing would be to have GPs across the country booking in large numbers of people and having to reschedule those appointments unnecessarily.’
According to government figures, more than 4 million people in the UK have now received their first dose of a Covid vaccine, with more than half of the over 80s vaccinated.