The first Pfizer coronavirus vaccines could be delivered very close to Christmas but there is no exact date yet for the rollout in the Salisbury area, a local GP has revealed.
Salisbury GP Dr Helena McKeown, who is also chair of the representative body of the British Medical Association (BMA), told the Journal she is “cautiously optimistic” after the news of the vaccine’s effectiveness emerged on Monday (November 9).
Pharmaceutical company Pfizer says its coronavirus vaccine candidate is more than 90 per cent effective against Covid-19 during a major trial.
It is developing the mRNA-based vaccine with BioNTech.
The UK has already ordered 30m doses.
Meanwhile, the number of coronavirus patients at Salisbury District Hospital continues to rise.
‘Another step closer’
“I am cautiously optimistic. I am sure I was delighted as everyone else when I saw the news,” Dr McKeown said on the vaccine news.
“I was delighted to see that we are another step closer.”
“I think everyone will be very pleased we’ve got an efficacious vaccine around the corner now – the light at the end of the tunnel – but also a little bit anxious about how they will deliver it,” she added.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson also urged caution on Monday (November 9), saying it would take time for the vaccine to be distributed and it would not make a difference to the current wave and lockdown.
But he was noticeably upbeat when he said the “cavalry” of science was closer to providing a way out from virus safety measures and lockdowns.
No date yet for Salisbury vaccine roll out
Dr McKeown also said it would take time for people to benefit.
She said ahead of the vaccine being delivered there would have to be approval steps and logistics arranged to sort out how it will be distributed and stored.
“When it will be delivered in Salisbury will depend on the roll-out and when the vaccine is finally approved. I haven’t got that date yet,” added Dr McKeown.
There are a range of reasons which will slow down the process of getting the vaccine to those who need it, she explained.
She said: “Vaccines are very complex, they need special storage conditions so a campaign of this scale, I believe we’ve got 30 million vaccines, is going to be a huge undertaking for GP practices who are already struggling with the impact of the pandemic and the catch-up and supporting large numbers of patients with other healthcare concerns and winter upon us.
“I am very aware some of our GP colleagues, nurses, and reception staff are really very tired.
“A lot of people haven’t had much of a break.”
But the first deliveries could still be before the end of the year.
She said the delivery of the vaccine could potentially “fall very close to Christmas”.
The Government has made clear, however, that NHS workers, the elderly and clinically vulnerable will be given priority when the vaccine is deemed safe.
GPs should deliver vaccine to patients
Dr McKeown added: “It is not going to be easy, it is going to be logistically difficult but GPs are the right people to be asked to do it because we have track record.”
She said practices locally had done “really well” delivering flu vaccinations.
For example, Three Chequers Medical Practice had set up a flu vaccination clinic in the former BHS building and other practices had set up drive through clinics or hired larger venues due to the need for social distancing.
She added: “I am completely amazed at what GPs have done.”
She said they have continued seeing patients and adapting to new ways of working, including embracing technology to do online consultations.
She said autumn has been a busy period with doctors dealing with a “backlog of catching-up” as a result of things like ultrasounds and physiotherapy being postponed earlier in the year on top of delivering flu vaccines.
This busy period will continue through the winter, she believes.
Being a doctor in pandemic ‘very odd’
Dr McKeown said in some ways access had got worse as patients can no longer just turn up at the door during the pandemic.
But in other ways, patients had been given new routes to get advice, with conversations with a GP or nurse practitioner now available remotely and more quickly.
Dr McKeown said: “I am so proud of all the GPs and the GP practices. I’d like to extend that to all the pharmacies, the hospitals and the care homes.
“What GPs have done is amazing. They have implemented seven years of IT development in about a few weeks.”
Recalling her own experience of being a GP during the pandemic, she said: “I never thought I would go to work and get changed into scrubs, I’m not a surgeon.
“So that was very strange to start with.”
She said initially doing video consultations was “very odd”.
And while wearing masks she has learned to adapt the way she communicates to be more expressive with her eyes.