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Practices told to focus on Omicron for Covid booster  campaign

by Costanza Potter
22 August 2022

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Practices have been told to start delivering the autumn Covid booster campaign from 5 September, with patients set to receive Moderna’s new Omicron booster jab.

An NHS England letter to GPs and commissioners published last week said that visits to care homes must begin from the week commencing 5 September with a ‘formal launch of the winter/autumn campaign on 12 September’ – starting with the over-75s and healthcare workers.

It set out that:

  • PCN groupings and other sites should start vaccinating residents and staff in care homes and arrange visits to the housebound from the week commencing 5 September
  • Over-75s and ‘self-declaring’ health and social care workers will be able to book appointments via the national booking service (NBS) from the week commencing 5 September, for appointments starting the following week
  • Bookings will later extend to over-65s and self-declaring pregnant women, carers, household contacts of immunosuppressed people and at-risk groups, with ‘further announcements made in due course’
  • Immunosuppressed people ‘will be able to continue to self-declare or attend walk-ins for their vaccination in line with existing guidance’

The letter said that NHS England ‘will be engaging with professional bodies on options to support providers in prioritising the completion of vaccinations in care homes as early as possible’.

Opportunities to coadminister flu and Covid vaccines ‘should not unduly delay administration of either jab’ in care homes and for the housebound, it added.

The letter said NHS England expects ‘all sites to be vaccinating at full operational capacity from 19 September’ and that systems should offer vaccination to eligible groups ‘by the start of December’.

It added: ‘The Secretary of State has also asked the NHS to put plans in place to accelerate the programme should it be necessary (especially to anticipate and mitigate broader pressures on the NHS as a whole as we get closer to winter) and bring forward the end date if clinically advised and operationally viable.’

The letter also set out that the NHS ‘will deploy a single type of vaccine’ – Moderna’s newly-approved Omicron-targeting bivalent vaccine – for adult booster doses ‘in line with’ a recommendation from the JCVI.

It said: ‘JCVI advise that deployment of a single type of vaccine throughout the autumn booster programme promotes simplicity and is therefore desirable.

‘In line with the JCVI recommendation, the NHS will deploy a single type of vaccine (bivalent vaccines) – the mRNA bivalent Omicron BA.1/Original ‘wild-type’ vaccines for adult booster doses.’

separate statement added: ‘The NHS will offer people the new next generation bivalent vaccine where appropriate and subject to sufficient supply being made available to the NHS.

‘The JCVI and MHRA have stressed that the original vaccines also continue to provide great protection and people should come forward regardless of vaccine offered.’

This week, the JCVI issued advice on which Covid vaccines should be used in the booster campaign – which included the new Omicron Moderna vaccine and the original Moderna and Pfizer jabs, as well as the Novavax vaccine ‘in exceptional circumstances’.

NHS England’s letter also revealed:

  • Sites should confirm they have ‘assurance’ for delivery of Moderna’s bivalent vaccine with their regional team by 29 August
  • NHS England will confirm vaccine dose allocation for the first four weeks of the campaign by 19 August
  • Sites will be able to order doses from the 23 August ‘in readiness for delivery’ from the week commencing 5 September
  • The patient group directive (PGD) should be updated by 31 August and the national protocol ‘shortly after’, with ‘updated vaccine-specific e-learning content’ to be released ‘shortly’
  • Sites should upload appointments to the NBS covering the first four weeks of the programme from tomorrow, as national invitations via SMS, email and letter ‘are scheduled’
  • Sites not using the NBS ‘should work with local partners to ensure maximum capacity using local booking systems’

It added that the flu programme ‘will begin as usual from 1 September with sites vaccinating when locally procured vaccine allows’.

NHS England said: ‘Systems should maximise opportunities to co-promote and co-administer vaccinations where possible and clinically advised (eg Covid-19, flu and pneumococcal), especially where this improves patient experience and uptake, but this should not unduly delay administration of either jab.

‘We will provide further operational guidance to systems as appropriate.’ 

According to NHS England, as many as ‘3,000 sites are expected to be part of the rollout, including GP practices and community pharmacies, with new sites joining the programme all of the time’.

Around 26 million people across England will be eligible for an autumn booster in line with guidance set out by the JCVI on which cohorts should receive the vaccine.

Covid booster vaccines will be extended to people aged 50 and over this autumn alongside other at-risk groups, following a final recommendation from the JCVI last month.

And some GP practices in Wales will not be delivering Covid boosters this autumn due to campaign arrangements making it ‘unfeasible’.

A version of this article was initially published on our sister title Pulse.

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