People under 50 may have to wait up to a month longer than expected for their Covid vaccination due to a severe vaccine shortage, NHS leaders said.
The unexpected delay was revealed in a letter to heads of health services, who have been ordered to stop booking first-dose appointments for anyone under 50 for the entire month of April.
The letter from NHS England explained that the move was necessary because there would be a “significant reduction in the weekly supply available from manufacturers from the week starting March 29”.
The letter added: “The volumes for the first doses will be considerably limited. This will continue for a period of four weeks, due to the reduction in the national supply of incoming vaccines. ”
Government sources suggested that the AstraZeneca vaccine supply squeeze was much worse than expected. But they stressed that the UK was still on track to vaccinate all adults by the end of July and honor the administration of the second doses on time. There was speculation Wednesday night that the shortfall was due to delays in the delivery of 10 million doses of AstraZeneca jab from India. A statement from the company did not address the reports, but said: “Our domestic supply chain in the UK is not experiencing any disruption and there is no impact on our delivery schedule.”
The Royal College of General Practitioners called the looming shortage “disappointing and frustrating for patients,” but echoed assurances that the goals would still be met.
Ruth Rankine, director of primary care at the NHS Confederation, said: “It is reassuring that the Secretary of State has reaffirmed the government’s commitment to vaccinate all over 50 by April 15. But embarking on new first-dose reservations for an entire month due to supply constraints will make that order even longer. ”
Although Health Secretary Matt Hancock has argued that the letter describing the shortage was a standard technical document, it has been met with contempt by NHS officials. “The letter is unusual,” said one of them. “It’s a futile exercise for Hancock to try to play it down.”
Government sources stressed that the reduction in supply had no immediate connection to the bitter dispute with the EU over vaccines, although the shortage may be worsened after the President of the European Commission threatened to stop exports of Covid-19 vaccines to Britain and secure doses for the block. own citizens unless the UK starts shipping doses to the mainland.
Foreign Minister Dominic Raab responded with an extraordinary rebuke to Ursula von der Leyen, the President of the European Commission, calling the threats a “brinkmanship” of the kind more normally condemned by the UK and the EU than “Less democratic countries”.
Some vaccinations for people under 50 could still take place from mid-April, when the UK also plans to start receiving supplies of the Moderna vaccine, subject to the Agency’s approval process. Medicines and Health Products Regulatory Authority (MHRA).
Hancock, who failed to mention the drop in offer during his opening speech at a Downing Street press conference, was provocative when challenged over the letter. He said the change would come down to a “one-off” supply and a desire to focus on immunizing all over 50s and vulnerable people before moving on to those under 50.
He told reporters: “Now that we’ve opened up to the 50+… then we’re really going to focus on getting the vaccine to those who are most vulnerable, and of course we have a whole bunch of second doses. who we need to deliver.
‘Vaccine stocks are always lumpy and we regularly send technical letters to the NHS explaining the ups and downs in supply over the next few weeks and [Wednesday’s letter] is a standard letter of these letters.
The letter was sent the same day people aged 50 and over were given the green light to make an appointment to receive their first dose of the vaccine.
Emily Lawson, NHS England program manager, and Nikita Kanani, the organization’s medical director for primary care, sent the letter to the more than 1,500 vaccination sites that administer injections.
NHS sources privately blamed the shortage on the Vaccines Task Force, initially set up by the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, but recently transferred to the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) from Hancock. He was widely praised for allowing the UK to speed up vaccine deployment from December 8, weeks ahead of other European countries, placing early orders of nearly 400 million doses from a range of Covid vaccines manufactured by various manufacturers.
But the looming shortage will likely affect many countries, not just Britain, an NHS official explained. “It’s a global problem. It’s not just us. It is plain and simple that we are failing to go through what we thought we had gone through.
Professor Martin Marshall, president of the Royal College of General Practitioners, stressed that vaccination sites depend on the vaccine supply and called on the government and the NHS to ensure that “any last minute changes [to supply] are reduced to a minimum so that general practitioners and our teams can make the necessary preparations so that the program continues to run as smoothly as possible with the available supplies ”.
However, some general practitioner executives have speculated that the news may prompt some primary care networks (PCNs) – groups of general practitioners working together as part of the vaccination program – to withdraw from the deployment to people under. 50 years old. Sunday to decide whether or not to be part of this next phase of the rolling program.
A DHSC spokesperson said the department was in contact with manufacturers to try to understand and resolve supply issues and said there was no overall change in vaccination schedules, adding : “We remain on track to offer a first vaccine to over 50s on April 15 and all adults on July 31. ”
A spokesperson for NHS England said: ‘The Vaccine Task Force has done a fantastic job for this country in sourcing vaccines and we are all beneficiaries.’
Jonathan Ashworth, Secretary of State for Health, said news of the drop in supply would cause significant anxiety that could not be dismissed by suggesting the problem was foreseeable or that the letter was standard technical instruction.
“Matt Hancock had to explain exactly what these supply issues are and what he’s doing to fix them,” he said. “Trying to dismiss or downplay the legitimate concerns of anxious people waiting for a vaccine is just not enough.”