English doctors are grappling with the prospect of seven-day service, -75 degree Celsius freezers and vaccines known as “Talent” and “Courageous” as they prepare for an unprecedented logistical challenge: the roll-out of COVID-19 vaccinations.
Health minister Matt Hancock has set a target for England’s National Health Service that it should be ready to administer vaccines by Dec. 1, although he has said his central expectation is for the bulk of the roll-out to happen next year.
Any distribution of vaccines would also require approval from the country’s medical watchdog, the MHRA.
On Wednesday, NHS England medical director Stephen Powis confirmed that general practitioners (GPs), pharmacies and large-scale inoculation centres could all be involved in the vaccine roll-out, adding more details would be given in the coming days.
“There’s going to be some nationally organised vaccine immunisation centres, which will be large centres, probably run with military involved, etc. But GPs are well placed,” Steve Mowle, a practising GP and honorary treasurer of the Royal College of General Practitioners, told Reuters.
“The challenge of this task is even bigger than the flu immunisation programme. But I’m sure that GPs will have a very central role in delivering the COVID-19 vaccine.”
Germany is scouting trade fair halls and airport terminals as possible mass vaccination centres, while Italy plans to lean on its existing GP network. But in many countries, details of how the population will be inoculated are scarce.
A spokesman for Britain’s health ministry said that extra logistical expertise, transport arrangements and equipment had been put in place, the workforce had been expanded and 150 million pounds had been given to GP practices.
“An enormous amount of planning has taken place to ensure our health service stands ready to roll out a COVID-19 vaccine,” he said.
“We will publish further details on our deployment plans in due course.”
‘TALENT’ AND ‘COURAGEOUS’
Although there is still a lack of clarity over some of the details of how doctors are expected to deliver the vaccines, they have been briefed on the broad outlines.
In the absence of trade names, the NHS uses codenames to refer to the two vaccine candidates that are expected to be the first available.
Pfizer and BioNTech’s vaccine candidate, which uses an mRNA platform, is referred to as “Courageous vaccine”, while the University of Oxford and AstraZeneca’s is referred to as “Talent vaccine” in slides from a webinar to health professionals given by NHS England last week that have been reviewed by Reuters.
Britain has ordered 40 million doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech’s vaccine candidate, which had 95% efficacy in final trial results published on Wednesday, and 100 million doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca shot, which is expected to publish efficacy data in coming weeks.
In the webinar, doctors were told there would be 975 doses per pack of Pfizer vaccine, with two doses needed to be given 21 days apart, in line with the U.S. drugmaker’s design specifications.
Clinics could also need to be open at weekends to make sure the doses are used in time.
“Potential COVID-19 vaccines could need to be delivered within a certain time period once they arrive at a site,” the slide said.
“So, if necessary, but not otherwise, practices will need to have the ability to deliver vaccinations between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. seven days a week to avoid any going to waste.”