Nightingale hospitals to become mass vaccination centres – NHS

Someone being immunised
Someone being immunised (PA Archive)
14:42pm, Wed 04 Nov 2020
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The NHS is preparing to “fire the starting gun” whenever a Covid-19 vaccine is ready to be rolled out, a health service chief has said.

Sir Simon Stevens said a potential vaccination programme will see vaccines delivered at GP surgeries, pharmacies and mass testing centres – including at the Nightingale hospitals.

GPs will be put on stand-by from December should a vaccine be made available before Christmas, the NHS England chief executive said.

But the “expectation” is that any vaccination programme would begin in the new year – pending positive results from the vaccine clinical trials.

It comes as the head of the UK’s vaccines taskforce said that data from the vaccine trials at the University of Oxford and AstraZeneca and Pfizer with BioNTech could be available this year.

But when Kate Bingham was asked by MPs about the chances of a vaccine at some stage in the next year which will wipe out coronavirus, she said: “Well, to wipe out coronavirus, I think very slim.

“To get a vaccine that has an effect both reducing illness and reducing mortality, very high.”

Ms Bingham said she has 50% confidence that, by Easter or the early summer next year, all vulnerable people in the country will have a vaccine that will have some impact on reducing the dangers of Covid-19.

She said if she puts on “rose-tinted specs” she would hope to see positive interim data from both Oxford and Pfizer BioNtech on their potential vaccines in early December.

“And if we get that then I think we’ve got a possibility of deploying by year-end,” she said.

Professor Andrew Pollard, who is the head of Oxford’s vaccine trial team, said he is optimistic that the data on safety and efficacy of their vaccine will be available by the end of the year.

And he said there is a “small chance” of a vaccine being made available by Christmas.

Prof Pollard told the Science and Technology Committee that vaccines that show significant efficacy would be a “game-changer” for cancer patients.

Vaccine tracker (PA Graphics)

He said: “From a health system point of view, (it would mean) there are fewer people with Covid going into hospital (and) that people who develop cancer can have their operations or their chemotherapy, it is a complete game-changer and a success if we meet those efficacy end points.

“But, unfortunately, it does not mean that we can all get back to normal immediately because it takes time to roll out vaccines, not everyone will take them, and we will still have people getting this virus.”

Prof Pollard said a vaccine that is at least 50% effective could “halve the number of deaths or hospitalisations here in the UK” which would be “a dramatic change from where we are today”.

Meanwhile, Professor Robin Shattock, who is leading Imperial College London’s Covid-19 vaccine effort, said the world will be living with the consequences of coronavirus “for many years to come”.

He said: “I think it is unrealistic to expect that the UK Government or the country will wake up and hear there is a vaccine that is successful and life gets back to normal immediately.

“We are likely to be living with the consequences of this virus for many years to come – even though vaccines will make life that much much better and reduce, hopefully, fatalities and serious illness significantly.”

It came as Sir Simon said family doctors will be ready to start by Christmas “if the vaccine becomes available”.

Work has been going on behind the scenes to prepare for any potential Covid vaccine and how it could be rolled out.

GP magazine Pulse reported on Tuesday that family doctors will be told to be prepared to start vaccinating over-85s and frontline workers from early December.

Sir Simon told a press conference: “Our expectation is that it will be the start of next year when the bulk of vaccine becomes available, assuming that the Phase 3 trials produce positive results.

“We are obviously planning on the off-chance that there is some vaccine available before Christmas.”

Some vaccines need to be stored at minus 70C (minus 94F), he said, adding: “So it’s going to be a combination of what GPs are able to do, what community pharmacists are able to do, but also mass vaccination centres, which is one of the purposes we will be using the Nightingale Hospitals for, and other locations as well.

“There will be roving teams who will prioritise care homes and social care staff and other vulnerable groups.

“But the bulk of this is going to be the other side of Christmas, but we want to be ready.”

The Economist has previously reported that other locations being touted for mass vaccination centres include the Copper Box stadium in the Olympic Park in London, Woking Leisure Centre, Leeds Town Hall, and a university sports centre in Hull.

Sir Simon said the NHS is “10 out of 10” on scale of readiness to roll out a Covid-19 vaccine if one was to become available before Christmas.

He added: “Our job is to make sure that we are ready and waiting and able to fire the starting gun as and when.”

There are two front-runners in the Covid-19 vaccine race – one from German biotech firm BioNtech and US pharmaceutical company Pfizer, and another being developed by the University of Oxford and AstraZeneca.

Both vaccines are currently in Phase 3 of clinical trials.

Before any vaccine comes to the market, regulators have to confirm it is safe and effective.

Earlier, NHS England announced that the health service is moving to its highest alert level – level 4 – to deal with Covid-19 cases.

Chief executive Sir Simon said some hospitals are already cancelling non-urgent work and the spread of Covid-19 needs to be “minimised” to avoid further problems.

Dr Alison Pittard, dean of the Faculty of Intensive Care Medicine, said she is confident the NHS is “not going to collapse” but warned that non-Covid treatments and operations are at risk.

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