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COVID-19 vaccine programme expanded to front-line health and social care staff

News comes as Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine now approved for use across the UK

News comes as Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine has now been approved for use across the UK

The COVID-19 vaccination programme looks set to be ‘immediately expanded’ to front-line health and social care staff in England after the University of Oxford and AstraZeneca vaccine was approved for use in the UK.

Since the programme began on 8 December, the focus has been on vaccinating care home residents and staff, and those aged over 80. Sites have then used unfilled appointments to vaccinate healthcare workers identified as being at high risk of serious illness from COVID-19.

Priority for front-line staff who are at high risk of infection

News comes as Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine has now been approved for use across the UK

The Oxford/AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine has been produced at the Oxford Vaccine Group's facility at the Churchill Hospital.
The Oxford/AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine has been produced at the Oxford Vaccine Group's facility at the Churchill Hospital
Picture: PA Images/Alamy Stock Photo

The COVID-19 vaccination programme looks set to be ‘immediately expanded’ to front-line health and social care staff in England after the University of Oxford and AstraZeneca vaccine was approved for use in the UK.

Since the programme began on 8 December, the focus has been on vaccinating care home residents and staff, and those aged over 80. Sites have then used unfilled appointments to vaccinate healthcare workers identified as being at high risk of serious illness from COVID-19.

Priority for front-line staff who are at high risk of infection

But a letter sent to NHS and social care employers on Tuesday from NHS England chief executive Sir Simon Stevens says the health service is now able to ‘substantially accelerate vaccine delivery’ in England.

‘Increased supply means that vaccination can also now immediately be expanded to front-line health and social care workers,’ the letter says.

Trust human resources directors and local vaccination services will be responsible for overseeing staff vaccinations, building on the model used for staff flu vaccination, it says, and operational guidance will be made available shortly.

‘Within this group, you should give priority to front-line staff at high risk of acquiring infection, at high individual risk of developing serious disease, or at risk of transmitting infection to multiple vulnerable persons or other staff in a healthcare environment.’

Shift in UK vaccination programme strategy

This shift is down to two key factors.

First, the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine will be rolled out from January 4, after the government announced it had accepted the recommendation from the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency to authorise it for use.

Second, there has been a change in the UK vaccination programme guidance on the increased spacing of second vaccine doses for both the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine and the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine.

Both vaccines need to be administered in two doses. The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) now recommends that the initial priority should be to offer as many people as possible on its priority list a first vaccine dose.

The JCVI has advised that the second dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine may be given between three and 12 weeks after the first dose, and that the second dose of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine may be given between four and 12 weeks after the first dose.

Prioritise clinically vulnerable and healthcare staff in primary and community settings

News of the Oxford vaccine approval was welcomed by RCN general secretary Dame Donna Kinnair, who had called for health and care staff to be considered a priority, alongside clinically vulnerable people, so that they may continue to care for patients safely.

She added: ‘Getting the vaccine to all those who need it will be a huge undertaking. The government must ensure there is enough resource, including funding and clinical staff, to deliver the programme successfully and safely, while maintaining the usual services that patients require.’

The Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine: what you need to know

  • The government has secured 100 million doses of the vaccine
  • It can be stored at fridge temperature for at least six months
  • The second dose of the vaccine can be administered four to 12 weeks after the first
  • Data for the vaccine – published in The Lancet – indicate 90% efficacy when people are given a half dose followed by a full dose at least four weeks later
  • Clinical trials do not suggest any significant safety concerns

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