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Practices call for more transparency around Covid vaccine supplies and distribution

by Awil Mohamoud
22 January 2021

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Covid vaccination teams have called for more ‘openness and transparency’ around national vaccine supplies and distribution amid short-notice stock deliveries and reports of last-minute schedule changes.

Dr James Morrow, a managing partner in Cambridge, told Management in Practice that his PCN had been told it would not be receiving its expected delivery of vaccines next week, before finding that decision again reversed, and practices told to now expect shipment. 

Dr Morrow said he and his colleagues, who are still dealing with the elderly cohorts, are ‘delighted’ that they can continue vaccinating, but that they would like to see ‘openness and transparency around vaccine supply and delivery’.

He added: ‘Booking in 1,000-plus patients takes time and notice, as does rearranging clinics and rotas for staff to deliver. We really do need more than 24 to 48 hours’ notice [for deliveries] – and planning ahead is much better.   

‘At present, it feels as if there is a lack of clarity about future deliveries and supply. This applies particularly to the Pfizer supply, where we effectively have just two days to deliver it from delivery to the surgery. We are all in this together: open sharing of information can only help those on the ground deliver the vaccine.’

‘The problem is unpredictability’

Dr Curtis, a GP in West Yorkshire, told Management in Practice that the problem facing his PCN is the ‘unpredictability’ of vaccine deliveries, which is compounded by the short timescales involved – with the period between notification and delivery typically lasting between four to six days. 

He explained: ‘The delivery time is not known to us until the night before. The short notice makes it hard to plan staffing and very hard to invite patients. The vulnerable and those who struggle to communicate by phone are less likely to accept an invitation. These are often the groups who most need the protection of a vaccination. 

‘In summary, we need more vaccines, more predictability of supply and longer lead times.’

Vaccine supply

In the Commons last week, Boris Johnson, prime minister, said the problem is the ‘supply’ of vaccines, and ‘not the distribution network’, and pledged that the UK will be ramping up supply in the following days and weeks.

Matt Hancock, health secretary, said yesterday (21 January) that five million doses of Covid vaccine have so far been administered in the UK to a total of 4.6 million people, adding there has been ‘good progress’ in reaching the goal of vaccinating the top four priority groups by mid-February. 

He said: ‘We are vaccinating at a greater daily rate than anywhere in Europe – twice the rate of France, Spain or Germany.’

Mass vaccination centres

In its Covid vaccine delivery plan, the Government said it aims to have 50 large-scale vaccination centres set up across England by the end of January, alongside 1,200 primary care sites and 206 hospital hubs.

Dr Morrow told Management in Practice that he has concerns about whether or not ‘cross-cutting services’ are effectively competing for a limited supply of vaccines.

‘We can do all of our population in-house, close to home, from teams who know them. From our perspective, it is hard to see what benefit mass vaccination centres offer, particularly if it slows our local delivery by diverting supply away from GP sites.’

Distribution of vaccines

Some PCNs have recently said they have seen a reduction in supply of vaccines to their practices, voicing frustration on social media about a lack of transparency over distribution and allocation. 

Dr Oliver Hart, GP Partner in Sheffield, tweeted on 19 January that his PCN hub had its vaccine delivery delayed for nine days and reduced by half. Dr Nikki Kanani, NHSE’s medical director for primary care, responded that this was because the area had made ‘great progress’ and that there is a need to ensure equitable distribution across the country.

Dr Kanani today confirmed reports that vaccine supplies in the North East and Yorkshire will be diverted to areas of the south of England, where fewer over-80s have been vaccinated. 

Dr Curtis confirmed to Management in Practice that his PCN in West Yorkshire has been allocated 1,375 vaccines for next week after delivering 3,000 this week.

A spokesperson for NHS England told Management in Practice: ‘All GP led vaccination sites will receive a delivery in the next week with more supplies being delivered to areas that have vaccinated fewer numbers of people. 

‘Vaccinations are already available from more than 1,000 GP-led services across the country, but where local areas chose not to sign up, other sites, including community pharmacies, will be coming online in the coming weeks.’