GP-led sites are due to begin vaccinations next week after hospital sites began rolling out the Pfizer/BioNTech jabs on Tuesday, but dozens of practices have cited already-heavy workloads, staff shortages and potential cuts to other services as reasons for declining to join.
The Guardian reported that around 100,000 patients of the more than 60 million registered at GP practices across the country would not be able to get a coronavirus vaccine from their family doctor as a result.
It is understood that if a person’s local GP practice is not administering the vaccines, they will be able to get it at other locations such as hospital hubs or at pharmacies from the end of January.
According to the newspaper, “a number” of GP practices in Manchester, Sussex, Lincolnshire, Yorkshire and the Thames Valley have decided not to sign up for the programme.
Some surgeries also reportedly cited a new rule that requires every vaccine recipient to be monitored for 15 minutes after inoculation as a reason not to join the programme. The rule was introduced after two hospital workers had an allergic reaction to the vaccine.
The Royal College of GPs (RCGP) said that while there has been an “excellent response” to the vaccine rollout from many practices, it understand why some “have felt like they cannot sign up”.
The organisation described the programme as an “enormous challenge” in the face of work doctors are already doing amid the pandemic, which includes an expanded winter flu jab programme.
The Pfizer vaccine also comes with some logistical challenges, as it needs to be stored at temperatures of -70C to -80 before being thawed out, and can only be moved four times within that cold chain before it becomes unviable.
Professor Martin Marshall, chairman of the RCGP, said: “It is going to be an enormous challenge given the workload and workforce challenges GPs and our teams are currently working under, delivering the expanded flu vaccination programme, as well as the vital services our patients rely on us for - and the significant logistical issues associated with delivering the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine at a community level.
“Given these challenges, we understand why some practices have felt like they cannot sign up, but there has been an excellent response from the large number of practices able and wanting to be involved.”
He added that around 280 primary care settings had been identified for the first phase of the primary care rollout and were preparing to inoculate patients early next week.
A spokesperson for the NHS said: “As set out and supported by the BMA, general practices will deliver the vaccine from nominated sites within primary care networks, where it is safe and practical to do so. There has been a fantastic response from GPs across England signing up to do so.
“Given the well-known logistical challenges of delivering this particular vaccine, GPs like others across the NHS are now responding rapidly to make arrangements for this to happen.”
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