Will GPs rise to the challenge of mass COVID vaccination?

A look at what’s to come from the new DES and the many questions still left unanswered.

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I cannot quite believe that we are making preparations to start the biggest vaccination programme of my professional life.

Yesterday, the news that everybody was desperately waiting for finally came in – widespread protection from COVID-19 is ‘one step closer’ as early results from phase 3 research shows a vaccine is 90% effective.

Fashioning the COVID-19 vaccination programme aka CVP

Sure enough, a new optional direct enhanced service (DES) was created. General practice has therefore been asked to lead the rollout of a coronavirus vaccine programme from the 1st December with tight deadlines of the 17th November to officially sign up.

Who gets it first?

Initially, vaccination will be for those most at risk in December according to the gce. This is likely to be the over 85 group, those living in care establishments and possibly frontline NHS staff. A larger rollout for other groups would then commence in the New Year, which would give groups of practices more time to address the enormous logistical challenge.

Notwithstanding the sheer numbers of patients, the logistical challenges associated with the programme are really quite significant.

Vaccine safe storage: how to create polar conditions?

The vaccine is reported to need to be stored at -80 degrees (or is it -70?) and then thawed out. NHS England states that practices would not need to store the virus in the frozen state so would only need usual cold chain fridges. Each vial will contain 1,000 doses (for the Pfizer vaccine), so will require dividing out into individual doses that can then be given to patients. No details are yet available about the other potential vaccines. This will need to be carefully thought through so that no doses are wasted and used when needed. 

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Luke Koupparis

Medical editor, OnMedica

I am a GP in the Bristol area and also work as medical editor for OnMedica.
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