A pilot for the roll-out of the COVID-19 Pfizer/BioNtech vaccine to Welsh care homes is to begin on Wednesday, just over a week after the first jab was administered in the UK, the Health Minister has announced.
A designated care home in Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board will be the first in Wales to receive the vaccine, with teams in additional Health Boards taking the vaccine to care homes later this week.
The initial roll-out of the vaccine to care home staff, health and social care workers and those aged 80 and over began on Tuesday 8th across the UK, based on advice from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI). Wales and other UK administrations are guided by these recommendations.
There had been concerns about maintaining the stability of the Pfizer / BioNtech vaccine outside hospital vaccination centres as it usually needs to be stored at minus 70 degrees centigrade.
The Welsh Government has discussed at length with the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) and the vaccine’s manufacturer how to repackage and transport the vaccine without compromising the standards of safety and efficacy patients rightly expect. This meant that until now it had not been efficient to take the vaccine to care home residents.
This will mean Health Boards can take the vaccine to settings with at least five residents, rather than using it only in static vaccination centres. It will take a number of days to train staff and ensure standard procedures are drawn up and validated.
At first the vaccine will be issued to care homes in proximity to hospital pharmacies, but it is planned for the vaccine to be available in other settings in coming weeks, once learnings from the care home pilot has been captured.
The effects of the vaccine may not be seen nationally for many months and the advice on keeping Wales safe remains the same for everyone; keep contacts with other people to a minimum, keep a 2 metre distance from others, wash hands regularly, wear a face covering where required and avoid touching surfaces others have touched, wherever possible.
The Health Minister, Vaughan Gething, said: “Following Wales' successful roll-out of the first COVID vaccine last week, we are starting the care home resident phase of the programme carefully; however we need to continue to make sure we can safely transport the vaccine to people who can’t come to clinics.
“If all goes well this week, we will roll out care home vaccination ahead of Christmas, bringing a new level of protection to some of our most vulnerable people.
“Our NHS staff have done a fantastic job to get this first vaccine out in a safe and timely manner. I’m extremely grateful for their hard work on this and across the course of the pandemic.”
Dr Gill Richardson, Chair of Wales’ COVID-19 Vaccine Programme, said: “The delivery of a COVID-19 vaccine to care home staff and residents has always been a priority for the Welsh Government. We have been working for months to meet the challenges of distribution and believe we have a feasible solution which we will deploy at pilot sites from Wednesday. Care home staff have been offered immunisation at Health Board centres whilst awaiting the mobile model to commence.”
“We are now very confident NHS hospitals can safely repackage and transport vaccine to care home without compromising its stability.”
As further supplies become available and additional vaccines receive MHRA approval, a staged approach will see other groups be offered the vaccine, based on risk of serious complications and deaths.
People are urged to wait to be invited, which will happen through NHS systems. Please do not ask your pharmacist or GP.