News

HDA UK Media and Political Bulletin – 20 January 2021

Media Summary

COVID-19 in Scotland: Concerns about vaccine supply amid GP frustration
BBC News, Editorial Team, 19 January

BBC News reports that Scottish opposition parties have voiced concerns about vaccine supplies after “frustrated” GPs said they were still waiting for deliveries.

At Holyrood on Tuesday, the First Minister was pressed on why the rollout was going “so slowly” and on whether there was a problem with distribution. Dr Andrew Buist, of BMA Scotland, also told the BBC that patients were getting anxious and practices could not plan.

In response, Nicola Sturgeon said that there were ongoing challenges but targets would still be met. The First Minister said the January target of delivering 100,000 vaccines per week had been “exceeded”. She also reiterated that she had not been able to discuss supply figures due to commercial confidentiality.

 

COVID-19: No vaccine postcode lottery in NI, say doctors
BBC News, Lesley-Anne McKeown, 19 January

BBC News reports that Northern Irish doctors have insisted there is no postcode lottery when it comes to rolling out the Coronavirus vaccines.

Northern Ireland’s vaccination plan means all those over 80 should receive their first dose by the end of January. More than 154,000 doses of a vaccine have now been administered, health officials said.

Dr Frances O’Hagan, Deputy Chairwoman of NI’s GP committee, said practices had their own rollout plans but she expected them to meet official targets. She said rolling out the programme was a logistical challenge which fell on top of an already heavy workload, but assured that the jab would be given out in a “safe and timely” fashion.

Facing criticism that the distribution of the vaccine has been unequal to date, Dr O’Hagan said: “We tailor our programmes to our individual patients and to our geography and to our surroundings. It’s the best way of doing it because we know what suits our patients.”

 

Parliamentary Coverage

EU Committee seeks evidence for new inquiry on EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement
House of Lords EU Goods Sub-Committee, 20 January

The House of Lords EU Goods Sub-Committee is inviting written contributions to its ongoing inquiry into “Future UK⁠–EU relations: trade in goods.”

This inquiry will examine the impact of the provisions set out in the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA), and what a UK-EU relationship could and should look like going forward.

The inquiry is interested in the provisions of the Agreement and its implications now and in the future. Areas of particular interest are: non-tariff barriers (rules of origin and technical barriers to trade), customs arrangements, transport and level playing field provisions.

You can read a press release for the inquiry’s call for evidence here.

 

Supply chain workers crucial to vaccination programme to receive jabs
Department of Health and Social Care, 19 January

The Government has announced that up to 2,000 people working in roles crucial to the continuity of the COVID-19 vaccine supply chain will be offered jabs to help ensure the UK gets the doses it needs to protect the most vulnerable.

Highly trained workers who have been identified by the government as being irreplaceable and crucial to the delivery of vaccine supplies will be offered vaccines.

This will reduce the risk of an outbreak that would disrupt the immediate supply chain, which could have a significant impact on the largest vaccination programme in British history.

You can read the full press release here.

 

House of Commons, Written Answer, 18 January

Grahame Morris (Labour, Easington): To ask the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, what role community pharmacies will have in the delivery of the COVID-19 vaccine.

Nadhim Zahawi (Conservative, Stratford-on-Avon): Community pharmacies will play a major role in the COVID-19 vaccination programme. Since 11 January 2021, some community pharmacies have started to offer the COVID-19 vaccination service, with more pharmacies joining the service over the coming weeks.

Some pharmacists and members of their team have been working with general practitioners to deliver the vaccine in many areas of the country as part of the Primary Care Network service.

The Department, NHS England and NHS Improvement, and the community pharmacy representative bodies will be working together to establish how community pharmacies’ role could be expanded further in the vaccination programme.

 

House of Commons, Written Answer, 18 January

Alex Norris (Labour, Nottingham North): To ask the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, whether the Government plans to adapt the roll-out of the COVID-19 vaccine programme to allow more local communities to receive the vaccine from their community pharmacy.

Nadhim Zahawi (Conservative, Stratford-on-Avon): Community pharmacies play an important role in the COVID-19 vaccination programme. Since 11 January 2021, some community pharmacies have started to offer the COVID-19 vaccination service, with more pharmacies joining the service over the coming weeks.

Some pharmacists and members of their team have been working with general practitioners to deliver the vaccine in many areas of the country as part of the Primary Care Network service.

The Department, NHS England and NHS Improvement, and the community pharmacy representative bodies will be working together to establish how community pharmacies’ role could be expanded further in the vaccination programme.

 

Full Coverage

COVID-19 in Scotland: Concerns about vaccine supply amid GP frustration
BBC News, Editorial Team, 19 January

Opposition parties have voiced concerns about vaccine supplies after “frustrated” GPs said they were still waiting for deliveries.

At Holyrood on Tuesday, the first minister was pressed on why the rollout was going “so slowly” and on whether there was a problem with distribution.

Dr Andrew Buist, of BMA Scotland, told the BBC that patients were getting anxious and practices could not plan.

Nicola Sturgeon said there were ongoing challenges but targets would be met.

Dr Buist claimed that as of Monday, the Scottish government had taken receipt of more than 700,000 vaccines – but only used 264,991.

He said: “The work force is there and that’s why it’s so incredibly frustrating when the patients want the vaccine, we’re very keen to give it to our patients but we just don’t have the vaccine in our fridge.”

Dr Buist spoke also about “inconsistencies” across the GP network, saying some practices had supplies but others had none.

The government said it was listening to Dr Buist’s concerns and every GP in Scotland would receive, in writing, more detail about the “mechanism of supply, ordering and delivery, with suggested solutions”.

Opposition party members questioned Ms Sturgeon about the vaccination programme after she had delivered a statement to parliament saying lockdown would continue until “at least” mid-February.

Scottish Conservatives MSP Ruth Davidson said anxious constituents feared being “left behind” and called for an explanation on why over 400,000 vaccines had “yet to reach patients”.

The First Minister said the January target of delivering 100,000 vaccines per week had been “exceeded”.

She also reiterated that she had not been able to discuss supply figures because the UK government had “thrown a hissy fit” after plans were published then removed from the Scottish government website.

Ms Sturgeon told the chamber: “They don’t want us to be open about supply for reasons of commercial confidentiality and while I don’t necessarily agree with the reasoning behind that, we have agreed with their request.

“We vaccinate as quickly as we possibly can and that will continue to be the case as we go through the different groups in our vaccination programme.”

Ms Sturgeon said the following targets would be met:

Interim Scottish Labour leader Jackie Baillie also asked when the 400,000 remaining vaccines would be distributed to GPs, reiterating that supply had been “patchy”.

Ms Sturgeon replied that as per earlier JCVI advice, the Scottish government had been holding back 50% of doses in order to complete the second round of vaccinations within three weeks.

The UK’s vaccination strategy changed in recent weeks, leaving a 12-week gap between doses.

Ms Sturgeon added: “They are now flowing through the system now advice has changed.”

Scottish Lib Dem Leader Willie Rennie said he had heard from GPs in his own constituency of Fife who had been forced to cancel vaccine appointments because they had run out of injections.

He pressed the first minister on whether there was a problem with Scotland’s distribution system.

All governments have “big challenges” in terms of vaccine allocation because of supply flow, responded Ms Sturgeon.

She added: “I don’t underestimate ongoing challenges but I don’t think it would be right to say the programme is not progressing well.”

Could GPs use the Pfizer vaccine?

On Monday Ms Sturgeon said vaccinating over-80s in the community was now picking up pace, with the target being to have them all given the first dose by 5 February.

However, Dr Buist questioned whether Scotland would receive enough supply of the AstraZeneca vaccine to meet the target of offering vaccines to all over 70s and 80s by the middle of February.

Instead, he proposed that GPs should be allowed to use the Pfizer vaccine – which has to be stored in industrial freezers and has limits on the number of times it can be transported.

He said: “Once it’s defrosted it can be used over five days. They do come in boxes of 975 doses and I am also aware that GPs in NHS Highland have already been using it.

“It is quite possible to use Pfizer in practice. Of course we absolutely want to minimise any wastage but with good planning we can do that.”

National clinical director Prof Jason Leitch told the BBC there was no “medical or clinical” reason GPs could not use the Pfizer jab, but it would be “much harder logistically”.

“The potential would be that we would waste a lot – because they don’t have industrial freezers with which to store it,” he said.

“Once it is defrosted you have to use it fast. And you can’t transport it long distances – you can only transport it two six hours journeys. We don’t want to send them 195 vials and they use four.”

How has the government responded to GP frustrations?

A Scottish government spokesman said the country’s chief pharmaceutical officer had contacted Dr Buist to discuss with him the ongoing concerns. In addition all GPs would be receiving a letter explaining in more detail “the mechanism of supply, ordering and delivery, with suggested solutions at local board level that can also assist them”.

The spokesman added: “GPs have a significant role to play in delivering the vaccine – and we thank them for their hard work.

“We are in regular contact with boards to ensure GPs have the most up to date information on when supply is available and what our expectations are for them, providing as much detail as we can while rightly allowing our teams to focus on the task of delivering the biggest vaccination programme ever seen in Scotland.

“We too want to vaccinate as many people as quickly as possible and are continually working hard to see if distribution can be made faster in any respect.”

 

COVID-19: No vaccine postcode lottery in NI, say doctors
BBC News, Lesley-Anne McKeown, 19 January

Doctors have insisted there is no postcode lottery when it comes to rolling out the coronavirus vaccines.

Northern Ireland’s vaccination plan means all those over 80 should receive their first dose by the end of January.

More than 154,000 doses of a vaccine have now been administered, health officials said.

Dr Frances O’Hagan, deputy chairwoman of NI’s GP committee, said practices had their own rollout plans but she expected them to meet official targets.

“As soon as we get the vaccine, we will get it to you,” she told BBC News NI. “But please, please wait until we contact you.”

“We tailor our programmes to our individual patients and to our geography and to our surroundings.

“It’s not actually a postcode lottery. It’s the best way of doing it because we know what suits our patients.”

What is Northern Ireland’s Covid-19 vaccine plan?

Dr O’Hagan said she had not heard reports of some practices holding back vaccines until they received bigger amounts to allow for a larger number of vaccinations to be done.

She said rolling out the programme was a logistical challenge which fell on top of an already heavy workload but the jab would be given out in a “safe and timely” fashion.

Sinn Féin MP Órfhlaith Begley said doctors in her West Tyrone constituency were working above and beyond to administer the vaccine to as many people as possible.

“But unfortunately I am hearing that some GPs cannot access supplies of the vaccine,” she said.

“There does appear to be, and it is a consistent message from GPs in my own constituency, a feeling the distribution of the vaccine has been unequal to date.”

Vaccination update

Meanwhile, Health Minister Robin Swann has welcomed a further delivery of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine into Northern Ireland on Tuesday morning.

In a tweet, Robin Swann said: “We now have the supply to complete all our over 80s and when that group is finished, there will be enough to start into the over 75 programme.”

Patricia Donnelly, the head of NI’s vaccination programme said there had been 154,436 doses of the vaccine administered here, with 132,857 of those being first doses.

On Tuesday, she said three quarters of care home residents had already received both doses.

“With the arrival of additional vaccine today, which have been issued this afternoon and tomorrow to GPs, there will be enough to complete the over 80 population and to commence in the over 70 population,” she added.

A further 24 virus-related deaths and 713 more COVID-19 cases were reported in Northern Ireland on Tuesday.

It brings the total number of deaths recorded by the Department of Health to 1,649.

There are currently 842 people in hospital with the virus, 70 people in intensive care units (ICU) and 57 being ventilated.

In the Republic of Ireland, a further 93 COVID-19 related deaths were reported on Tuesday, bringing the country’s death toll to 2,708.

A further 2,001 positive cases were also recorded in the latest figures from the Republic’s Department of Health.

Northern Ireland’s rate of COVID-19 infection is now below one and has been at that level for a couple of weeks, according to the chief medical officer.

However, Dr Michael McBride warned the reproduction (R) number for hospital transmission remains above one.

What is the R number and why does it matter?

Dr McBride said new variants of the virus had made the job of curtailing the spread even more difficult, and warned he did not foresee any relaxation of restrictions any time soon.

“We need to ensure that we have as many people who remain at risk of severe disease vaccinated and prioritised with the first dose as possible before we consider significant relaxations in the current restrictions,” he said.

Meanwhile concerns have been raised that “social media myths” are encouraging some care home staff to reject the COVID-19 vaccine.

Pauline Shepherd, from the Independent Health and Care Providers, said young women were especially vulnerable to misinformation about the vaccine and fertility.

Last week, the Department of Health said there had been an uptake level of about 80% among care home staff.

“We are very keen obviously that everyone takes the vaccine, that is really the only way that we are going to get through this,” she told BBC Radio Foyle.

“Obviously there are myths going around on social media about the vaccine and some are opting not to take it.

“Particularly younger females seem to have the view through social media that it may impact fertility”.

There are currently 139 confirmed COVID-19 outbreaks in NI’s 483 care homes.

The Public Health Agency (PHA) and Department of Health were now exploring how “to dispel the myths”, Ms Shepherd added.

Dr Mukesh Chugh, a consultant anaesthetist at Altnagelvin Hospital in Londonderry, said there had been a “reluctance” among black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) people to take COVID-19 vaccines.

Dr Chugh says this is because of “anti-vaccine messages” posted across various social media platforms and messenger apps “targeted at certain ethnic and religious groups”.

“I encourage them not to believe the messages they are getting on WhatsApp – these are not scientific messages,” he said.

“Believe the scientific research.”

Meat plant workers

On Tuesday, Agriculture Minister Edwin Poots said a number of groups of key workers should be given priority access to vaccinations.

Prioritisation was decided by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), which advises UK health departments on immunisation.

Edwin Poots said meat plant workers should be among those given priority vaccine access
Asked if he supported prioritisation for food workers in meat plants, Mr Poots told the assembly he did and had raised it with the executive.

“It’s been identified as an essential service – those people working in them are there in cold, wet conditions where we have had a number of outbreaks,” he said.

“We should seek to introduce those people somewhat earlier than is currently the case – I will continue to endeavour to press that case.”

He said other groups of workers who should be prioritised included “teachers and police officers”.

HDA UK Media and Political Bulletin – 20 January 2021

From Factory to Pharmacy

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