NHS England has written to Trusts across the UK to outline plans to vaccinate all frontline staff against COVID-19 following the rollout of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine.
From the middle of January, all NHS Trusts will be able to provide vaccinations for local healthcare and social care workers, which will be critical in keeping both them and patients safe.
The life-saving jab will be offered to all staff across NHS services, including those who work in general practices, pharmacies, dentists and other primary and secondary care settings.
It will also be available to ambulance trusts, volunteers and all independent providers, such as community-based mental health services.
Local Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCG) will co-ordinate the details for all staff on how and when to get their jab, and local vaccination centres will also be able to deliver jabs at short notice in order to prevent wastage.
Clinics will be scaled up to enable vaccinations to take place seven days a week and health and social care workers will be invited to book appointments.
The NHS will ensure CCGs have a full list of providers, including independent and private services. For example, private sector dentists registered with the CQC, which the NHS has access to.
While the priority so far has been to deliver the vaccine to those most in need, a number of staff will have already received their first dose. The aim is to have made significant progress in immunising all frontline staff by the first week of February and uptake will be continuously monitored.
The vaccination of workers will be prioritised based on local risk assessments, which will consider factors such as face-to-face contact time, underlying health conditions and whether people are from black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) backgrounds, all of which are proven risk factors.
Ensuring widespread vaccine coverage among those most at risk in our workforce will be an important factor in reducing the disproportionate impact COVID-19 presents.
The procedure of rolling the vaccine out to staff will be very similar to that of flu vaccinations, which this winter had a high uptake of almost 75%.
Chief Nursing Officer for NHS England, Ruth May, said: “This is the biggest vaccination programme in NHS history and as we move to the next phase of the rollout, it is only right that we prioritise the NHS staff who have been on the frontline of this global pandemic.
“We will be prioritising the nurses, doctors and other frontline staff who continue to work tirelessly, before administering the vaccine to almost all health and social care staff by mid-February.”
Chief People Officer Prerana Issar said: “Frontline staff across the NHS have been working around the clock to keep patients safe throughout the pandemic. It’s absolutely essential that we protect them while they care for patients, and the approval of the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine is helping us to do that.”
Immunising healthcare workers will both prevent them from becoming ill and colleagues from being required to self-isolate, enhancing the ability of the NHS to provide an excellent service.
Hospital hubs will need to facilitate appointments for outside of peak times and at weekends for those workers who are only available at those hours.
It will also be the responsibility of local authorities to ensure that all social care workers are able to receive their jabs and they will similarly be contacted directly.
All social care workers will be eligible for the jab regardless of whether they work in hospitals, people’s homes or another setting, or who employs them.
Individual Trusts will make sure they have sufficient vaccinators dependent on the size of their staff cohort and they will be able to draw on the national workforce where necessary.
Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, Chair of the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges said: “In the middle of an incredibly dark time, this is very welcome news. Day after day scores of people who care for the sick and vulnerable put their lives on the line, many have already been seriously ill; ensuring they all have the vaccine is the surest way to help the healthcare system to keep functioning at the highest levels as we work to overcome this pandemic and save as many lives as possible. We have done an incredible job to get as far as we have with the vaccine programme in this country, we know the future roll-out plans are ambitious, but they are achievable and hopefully now people can see there is a light at the end of the tunnel.”
Professor Andrew Goddard, President of the Royal College of Physicians said: “The RCP welcomes the additional guidance that all NHS trusts will be established as hubs to vaccinate all frontline healthcare workers by mid-January. It is imperative that we are all vaccinated as soon as possible, to protect our patients, protect ourselves and keep as many of us delivering care as possible.”
Dr Samantha Batt-Rawden, President of the Doctors’ Association UK said: “For frontline staff who are risking their lives every day to keep patients safe, this announcement couldn’t have come soon enough. Tragically we have lost too many healthcare workers to COVID in the UK. Frontline NHS and care workers absolutely must be protected as a matter of priority and we are pleased to see this announcement from NHS England today”.
British Dental Association Chair Eddie Crouch said: “Clarity on priority access to the vaccine comes as welcome news to colleagues in NHS and private dentistry across England. Dentists and their teams have not been looking for special treatment. We look forward to a straightforward rollout, that simply offers us the same protection afforded to all health professionals working on the frontline.”
Danny Mortimer, chief executive of NHS Confederation, said: “It is right to prioritise frontline health and care staff for COVID-19 vaccinations – irrespective of which part of the health and care sector they work in or whether they are a student or volunteer. Today’s guidance is something our members have been calling for and so it offers very welcome clarity on how staff will be vaccinated.
“Indeed, there has been a significant increase in staff absences relating to COVID-19, and staff are rightly very concerned about how they could work safely. So it is essential that staff are vaccinated as soon as possible, not just so that they can get back to work, but because it is a basic principle that we should do our utmost to protect the NHS’ best assets: our people. It will be logistically challenging to implement on top of so many existing pressures, and the timescales are ambitious, but we need our staff to be protected from infection and hopefully remain COVID-free.”
UNISON head of health Sara Gorton said: “Ensuring a safe, quick and efficient rollout of the vaccine is crucial. Everyone working in the NHS – including staff employed by private contractors or on temporary contracts – must be included in the plans.”Providing clear, easy-to-understand information about the vaccines will encourage the widest possible take up across the entire workforce.”
Professor Martin Marshall, Chair of the Royal College of GPs said: “GPs and our teams are currently working incredibly hard delivering two mass vaccination programmes, as well as the care and services our patients rely on us for – much of which cannot be delivered remotely.
“It’s imperative that GPs, our teams and others involved in delivering the vaccination programme have the opportunity to receive the COVID vaccine in a timely manner. This won’t just protect us from this terrible virus, allowing us to continue working on the frontline delivering patient care, but also patients and our families. General practice has been doing an excellent job, playing a leading role in vaccinating more than 1.5m patients – but there is long road ahead of us, and the last thing we want to see is the workforce depleted as staff fall ill due to COVID-19 at a time when we need all hands-on deck.
“These plans from NHS England to ensure frontline workers are vaccinated are welcome, and the College agrees that prioritising the people providing frontline care within communities is sensible and essential.”
Dr Katherine Henderson, President of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine said: “This is a very positive step and great news that frontline staff will all get vaccinated in a timely way. Staff in Emergency Departments and paramedics are at significant risk with the current levels of transmission in the community so this rollout will protect the health of the NHS’s greatest asset, its people as well as our ability to deliver care. Trusts must ensure that those who have been assessed as at highest risk are prioritised”.
Martin Flaherty OBE, Managing Director of the Association of Ambulance Chief Executives (AACE), said: “The vaccination of the ambulance service workforce is absolutely vital to further protect our staff as they continue to care for patients and contribute towards saving the lives of those who have contracted Covid-19. Ambulance staff are often the first healthcare professionals that COVID-19 patients see, by which time they can be extremely unwell and will need to be taken to hospital.
“With a virus as contagious as COVID-19, it is vital that our staff have all the protection that is available to them, which thankfully now includes the vaccine in addition to their personal protective equipment. We commend all ambulance staff who are working under these unprecedented and extremely challenging conditions and reassure them that ambulance trusts are doing all they can to get these vaccines out to staff as soon as possible.”
Tracy Nicholls, CEO of the College of Paramedics said: “The College welcomes the ability to provide vaccinations to paramedics and all ambulance and control room staff who are working within communities day and night. It is evident the pressure they are under and they do not want to be responsible for either spreading the virus through the communities they serve, or amongst their families and colleagues.
“This is the same for our members who work in primary or urgent and emergency care settings. It is important that trusts work hard to make sure they prioritise access to the vaccines appropriately. Paramedics want to continue to do the job they do with such dedication and professionalism and this is a big step forward in helping them do that.”