NHS bosses in the region are striving towards what they admit is a demanding ambition which, if achieved, would see the area complete its vaccination programme on the same day that the government is aiming for all over-18s to have had the offer of just their first jab.
To stand the best chance of hitting its challenging goal, Lancashire and South Cumbria will also aim to meet other vaccination milestones in advance of national targets, a meeting of Lancashire's health and wellbeing board heard.
That means the region is aiming to have completed first dose offers for the outstanding priority groups identified by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) - broadly, the over 50s and all over-16s with certain underlying health conditions - by the end of this month, compared to a national target of 15th April.
It then hopes to have been able to offer the remainder of the adult population an initial jab by 8th May - more than two-and-a-half months ahead of the nationwide aim.
The region would then use the period through to the end of July to try to offer second doses to every outstanding cohort.
That will include aiming to deliver all second dose offers to the top nine JCVI priority groups - led by care home residents and frontline health and social care staff and also including the over-70s, extremely clinically vulnerable, those with underlying health conditions and the over-50s prioritised by age - by 23rd June, ahead of an 8th July national target.
The health and wellbeing board meeting heard that the ultimate ambition to have offered two doses to all eligible groups less than five months from now will depend on vaccine supply and local capacity to deliver the jabs - and so cannot be guaranteed.
The Post understands that the accelerated programme for Lancashire and South Cumbria was devised in anticipation of the government setting the same expectation at a national level.
When the Prime Minister announced his own 31st July target last month, it was based on an aim to have offered everybody aged 18 and over only at least a first dose of the vaccine by that date - an aspiration confirmed in accompanying guidance from the cabinet office.
However, the region is still set to pursue its own, more stretching ambition, the Post has been told.
Jane Scattergood, Covid-19 Vaccination Director for Lancashire and South Cumbria’s Integrated Care System (ICS), told health and wellbeing board members that the regional 31st March target to complete first doses among the JCVI priority groups was “achievable”.
She added: “Vaccine supply has been constrained and remains constrained this week [commencing 8th March], but we’re getting clear signals that there will be lots of available vaccine from 15th March onwards - and we stand ready to use as much as we can as quickly as we can.”
Ms. Scattergood acknowledged that offering first doses to all working age adults by 8th May would be “very demanding in terms of [the] vaccine supply that we have experienced, but also capacity when thinking about primary care having...a lot of business-as-usual to be getting on with”.
“However, we may have an opportunity of a single dose vaccine [from Johnson and Johnson] being approved by [the regulator], which would mean that the first dose would be the only dose - and that’s eminently achievable by the end of July.
“Nevertheless, we will strive to get first doses completed by 8th May and that’s why we’ve set our local ambition for completion of JCVI [cohorts] 1 to 9 [by] the end of March to give us a five-week period where we might be able to offer vaccine at pace to [adults up to the age of 50], “ she explained.
The latest data on vaccine take-up shows that more than 90 percent of residents aged over-60 have received first doses in five out of the eight clinical commissioning group areas in Lancashire and South Cumbria - including Greater Preston and Chorley and South Ribble at 91 percent.
Almost 622,000 people across Lancashire and South Cumbria had been given their first dose by 7th March.
Second doses are getting underway again for the majority of people who have not yet had them, following a government decision to extend the original three-week gap between jabs to 12 weeks as of early January. As of 28th February, almost 14,900 Lancashire residents had received two doses, but by 7th March that had increased to just under 25,000
Speaking at the health and wellbeing board before the most recent figures were published, Ms. Scattergood said it had been “heartening” to see "phenomenal" take-up rates, often well over 90 percent, in the most vulnerable older age groups.
Noting that there was "no real disparity" between different parts of the patch when it came to accepting the offer of a vaccine, she told members that she had seen first hand what receiving a jab in the arm meant to the most vulnerable older age groups.
"I have done some jabbing personally and our patients cried when they were given the vaccine - they were so joyful at the optimism it engendered in them."
The board heard that efforts were being made to vaccinate the remaining few in the older age categories who had not received a vaccine either because they had "declined or been reluctant or too unwell".
At a separate meeting of the Lancashire and South Cumbria ICS board last week, chief officer and Fylde coast GP Dr. Amanda Doyle said that the region was starting a “big push on...uptake [amongst] those very small numbers of people that have been hard to reach in the cohorts that have already had access to the vaccination programme”.
“[There will be] a real focus on people who are displaying hesitancy to be vaccinated for whatever reason that might be.
“There are some groups of health and care staff [and] some particular BAME [Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic] communities who are less keen to take up the vaccine and we’re working very hard [on] that,” added Dr. Doyle.