Call for patience over vaccine rollout to care homes

By Jemma Crew, PA Social Affairs Correspondent
·4 min read

Vaccine experts have called for patience and said the priority list is designed to be flexible, as it was suggested that care home residents will not be included in the first wave of the rollout.

Professor Anthony Harnden, deputy chairman of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), said its coronavirus vaccine priority list was designed to be “flexible”.

Care homes and the elderly are at the top of the list but experts have said logistical issues with the Pfizer/BioNTech jab mean there are difficulties in getting it to residents and people who cannot leave their homes.

HEALTH Coronavirus
(PA Graphics)

Pfizer and BioNTech have said the jab can be sent to care homes as long as it travels for no more than six hours after it leaves cold storage and is then put in a normal fridge at 2C to 8C.

But there is not yet approval from the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) to split the vaccine boxes containing 975 doses, meaning some would be wasted if sent to individual residential homes.

However, Scotland’s Health Secretary Jeane Freeman announced vaccinations in care homes could begin from Monday December 14.

Ms Freeman said talks over lunchtime on Thursday had confirmed the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine can be transported in an unfrozen state for up to 12 hours and can also be broken down into smaller packs in “certain conditions”.

The National Care Forum said the only viable solution for care home residents is to get the jabs “over the threshhold”.

How the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine works
(PA Graphics)

A spokeswoman said: “It seems that the Scottish Government has come to a different conclusion and in fact intends to honour the prioritisation outlined by the JCVI and deliver the vaccine directly to Scottish care homes.

“It is not at all clear at this moment why the English Government is not pursuing this path.”

She called for “urgent guarantees” that the other vaccines be delivered on site into care homes if challenges delivering the Pfizer jab are not overcome.

She added: “It’s all very well to ask care homes to be ‘patient’, but having outlined just how life changing this could be, the patience of residents, relatives and providers shouldn’t be expected to stretch too far. ”

Earlier on Thursday, experts suggested care home residents, and elderly people who cannot leave their own homes, may have to wait for other vaccines to be approved.

Liam Smeeth, professor of clinical epidemiology at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said he hoped this would make it easier to vaccinate priority groups.

The non-executive director of MHRA told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “Yes, I think you’re right (that care homes are unlikely to be part of the first wave of vaccine rollouts).

“The logistics are going to have to be based around what we can achieve.”

Deputy chief medical officer for England Jonathan Van-Tam (PA Video/PA)
Deputy chief medical officer for England Jonathan Van-Tam said it would be “very, very difficult” to get the Pfizer jab into people’s homes (PA Video/PA)

Prof Harnden said he understood the news about care home delays would be disappointing for residents and their families, but asked for “a very small degree of patience” in delivering a new vaccine.

He told the Today Programme: “We have got an exciting vaccine, we have got others that are in the pipeline and we fully expect the programme and our priority list to be rolled out in the very near future.

“So I think the very short-term practical difficulties of getting this out from a storage point of view should not let us all lose sight of the fact that these care home residents and their staff are our utmost priority – and it may well be possible to get the care home staff to be immunised within a local hospital setting.”

England’s deputy chief medical officer Jonathan Van-Tam suggested people who cannot leave their homes may need to wait for the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine.

He said of the Pfizer jab: “This is one where there are strict rules about the number of times the vaccine can be taken out of the fridge and moved into what we call ‘ambient room temperatures’.

“So it is going to make it very, very difficult – in fact not viable – to take it into individual people’s homes if they are housebound.”

Prof Van-Tam told BBC Breakfast that if they can then they “absolutely will” get the Pfizer jab into care homes but he said that the Oxford vaccine would be easier to deploy.

He added that he is hoping the Oxford vaccine will be approved by Christmas, which he said is “much easier to split into smaller quantities and probably can go into people’s homes”.