Lancashire health bosses offer safety reassurance as Covid vaccination plan shifts into top gear

With the Covid-19 vaccination programme the key to life returning to some kind of normality, the NHS has issued an assurance that it is off to a strong start.

Thursday, 7th January 2021, 9:03 am
Updated Thursday, 7th January 2021, 9:14 am

Venues and timetables are being finalised to ensure as many people as possible are vaccinated as soon as possible, in priority order.

And health officials have been keen to offer reassurance that changes to the vaccination schedule are no cause for concern.

The changes have followed the go-ahead for the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine – which can be stored and transported more easily than the Pfizer/BioNTech version – which came after several thousand Pfizer/BioNtech jabs were issued but before the date of the follow-ups, many scheduled for this week.

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Jane Scattergood, Covid-19 vaccination director for the Lancashire and South Cumbria Integrated Care System said: “The Covid-19 vaccination programme has got off to a strong start across the country and NHS hospitals and primary care centres across Lancashire and South Cumbria are working extremely hard to vaccinate as many people as possible in a safe and coordinated way.

“The rollout of the vaccine involves a wide range of organisations working together.

“We need to thank the significant support to the NHS to deliver the Covid vaccination programme from our wider partners including Lancashire County Council, Blackpool Council, our district councils, the military, police and many more.

“We are grateful to all our patients for their patience and understanding, especially where appointments have been rescheduled following new guidance from UK Chief Medical Officers and the independent Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation.

“That guidance says that the second dose of the vaccine remains effective when given up to 12 weeks after the first dose.

“We will be administering second doses for patients within 10 to 11 weeks of the first vaccination.

“We would like to reassure patients that there are no safety concerns in the new guidance and the first dose ensures a high level of protection.

“The rescheduling of appointments will not impact on how effective the vaccination is in protecting people from Covid-19 once the course is complete.

“We ask that those people who are due to receive their second vaccination wait to be contacted for their second dose rather than contacting the NHS directly.”

More than a million people in the UK have been vaccinated with the Oxford/AstraZeneca or Pfizer/BioNTech jabs and Vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi said there will be a “massive acceleration” in the coming days.

But more than 100,000 people have signed a petition in protest at the decision to delay second vaccine shots for people receiving the Pfizer/BioNTech and the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccines by up to 12 weeks.

According to change.org, the petition has been gathering more than 500 signatures a minute – and the delay decision has sparked widespread concern among experts, healthcare professionals and the vaccine producers themselves.

In a joint statement, Pfizer and BioNTech said: “The safety and efficacy of the vaccine has not been evaluated on different dosing schedules as the majority of trial participants received the second dose within the window specified in the study design.

“There is no data to demonstrate that protection after the first dose is sustained after 21 days.”

Experts from the World Health Organisation have also expressed concern, highlighting that there is no scientific evidence for a delay of more than six weeks in administering the second dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine against Covid.

Debbie Oliver, an advanced nurse practitioner in Lancashire, started her change.org petition just a few days ago and it has been shared widely across social media in a sign of public concern on the issue.

Debbie said: “We want the UK Government, (Health Secretary) Matt Hancock and NHS England to vaccinate frontline workers/vulnerable public with the evidence based dosing regime as per vaccine schedule not one they decide is better.

“We want 94 per cent from Pfizer vaccine not 52 per cent from one dose for three weeks only to be gambling with people’s lives after week three in the misguided hope half protection is better than none.”

“UK Government you are letting down all those who put their lives on the line (and those who lost lives). Do the right things and put back the correct dosing regime as per study data.”

A UK-wide petition calling for teachers, school and childcare staff to be prioritised for the jab had also attracted more than 270,000 signatures by Tuesday afternoon.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced on Monday night that England would be plunged into another lockdown until at least mid-February, with schools set to be closed for the duration.

By then, Mr Johnson said that the top four priority groups – care home residents and staff, frontline health and social care workers, vulnerable individuals, and everyone over 70 – should have received their injections if the situation in hospitals improve.

Teachers and other school staff are not currently prioritised in the coronavirus vaccine programme, with even people aged 50 to 54 – the youngest group on the priority list – deemed lowest risk in the first wave of vaccinations, meaning they may have to wait weeks for the jab.

Putting school staff on the priority list would see more than 400,000 teachers bumped up the queue across England, the figures suggest.

Those in priority groups are at the most at risk, the Government says, with current vaccination rollouts aimed at preventing deaths and protecting the health and social care sector.

But Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the NAHT school leaders’ union, said the school workforce should also be prioritised to “help facilitate a speedy return to face-to-face education”.

In his televised address to the nation, Mr Johnson said that if the vaccination programme went well it would allow restrictions in the third national lockdown to be eased.

He did not suggest that the priority groups would be reviewed or amended.

Lancashire venues up and running

The NHS Lancashire Integrated Care Systems says vaccinations venues are already up and running in the following area:

Central Lancashire: Preston, Bamber Bridge, Buckshaw Village, Chorley, Leyland, Penwortham.

Fylde Coast: Blackpool, Garstang, Lytham St Annes, Poulton-le-Fylde, Preesall, Thornton Cleveleys.

Morecambe Bay: Barrow-in-Furness, Carnforth, Grange-Over-Sands, Kendal, Kirkby Lonsdale, Lancaster, Morecambe.

While most are medical centres, other venues are also being used or to be used, with multiple locations in many area. Pharmacies are also expected to go live with the vaccine in the next couple of weeks.

Among the confirmed venues to be a Covid-19 vaccination centre is Blackpool’s Winter Gardens (pictured) , which bosses hope will be fully operational this month. Ahead of the Oxford/Zeneca rollout, the life-saving jabs were only offered at the Victoria Hospital, Marton Medical Practice, and Lytham Primary Care Centre.

A meeting of the council’s adult social care and health scrutiny committee was told recently the NHS faces a huge challenge, with town hall workers “involved in Fylde coast discussions about staffing, roll-out, community sites, and larger sites”, it was reported.

Liz Petch, of Blackpool Council’s public health team, said: “The Winter Gardens has been chosen as a larger site for delivery”.

Mark Harper, chairman of the Government’s Covid Recovery Group, said the Government’s “job number one” must be giving people the jab. He said two million doses a week would ensure everybody aged 65 and over can be vaccinated by the third week of February.

Target to give vaccine to 11,000 care home residents

Lancashire care homes have almost 11,000 residents who have been prioritised for coronavirus vaccinations before the end of January.

The National Care Forum said the target will be a significant challenge for health services across England, but achieving it would be the “booster” that everyone needs.

There were 10,974 care home residents in Lancashire as of December, according to analysis of Care Quality Commission data by CSI Market Intelligence.

GPs and local vaccination services have been asked to give injections to every care home resident in their area by the end of January.

With the rollout of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine on January 4, this is a target of around 392 per day in Lancashire. The CSI-MI figures assume an 85 per cent occupancy level in the area, which is the national average, but there could be as many as 12,910 residents in Lancashire if all available beds are in use.

There are around 389,000 care home residents in England who, along with their carers, make up the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation’s first priority group for jabs.

Vic Rayner, executive director of the NCF, said: “The scale of the challenge set by government over the next month is significant.

“It will rely on huge amounts of local communication and coordination between care homes, GPs and local public health teams. The response to the vaccine so far has been incredible, with residents and staff embracing it.”

Care home residents and over 80s top priority list

The priority list for vaccinations is:

1 - Residents ina care home for older adults and their carers

2 - Over 80s, frontline health and care staff

3 - Over 75s

4 - Over 70s and clinically extremely vulnerable individuals

5 - Over 65s

6 - Under 65s with underlying health conditions

7 - Over 60s

8 - Over 55s

9 - Over 50s

In all cases, those affected should wait to be contacted by the NHS and invited for their vaccination.

The NHS is looking to recruit volunteers and some paid workers to help with the rollout.

Applications are invited for non-vaccinator volunteers to act as a marshal at one of the mass vaccination sites as a marshall.

Paid employment is also available through out the entire Lancashire and South Cumbria region.