Care leaders have voiced their anger at news that the NHS could receive COVID-19 vaccines ahead of care homes.
The backlash came after The Guardian reported that hospitals had been told to prepare for their first deliveries of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine as soon as 7 December ahead of care homes residents and staff. The development comes despite advice issued in September that placed care home residents and staff at the top of the priority list for vaccination.
Imminent approval of the Pfizer vaccine appears to have resulted in a change of plan by the government, as it requires being stored at low temperatures, which poses challenges for distribution. Care home residents and staff are expected to have to wait for approval of the Oxford University/AstraZeneca vaccine, which does not need to be stored at low temperatures.
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “The NHS stands ready to begin a vaccination programme for those most at risk once a vaccine is approved, as recommended by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation.
“The NHS has vast experience delivering widespread vaccination programmes and an enormous amount of planning has taken place to ensure our health service is prepared.”
Professor Martin Green OBE, CEO of Care England, commented: “We had a commitment that care home residents would be first in the queue. The reason is they are most susceptible to death from the virus. That commitment has to be honoured.”
Vic Rayner, the executive director of the National Care Forum, added: “In the spectrum of false promises, this will rank high because the vaccine has been linked to greater safety and greater freedom. The test that the government has outlined … is that efficacy is the only factor that might impact on the prioritisation. To turn back on this would be a betrayal of the most vulnerable and those who support them.”
Guidance for health and social care workers on the administration of the vaccine has now been published by Public Health England.
Meanwhile, the government has also announced that care home residents will be among 2.7 million people being given Vitamin D supplements from January to support their general health, in particular bone and muscle health. The government is still researching evidence that Vitamin D also provides resistance to COVID-19 with findings to be published at the end of the year.