Over the past week I have continued to attend regular briefings with the Council and local health officials, including from the South East London Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), and can now update residents in more detail on the vaccination process in our area.
In terms of the order of priority for vaccines, the Government is following the clinical guidance issued by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), an independent expert advisory group. The immediate priority is vaccinating those over 80 years of age, care home residents and staff, as well as healthcare and social care workers.
Good progress is being made in South East London. While there will inevitably be variations in delivery on a day-to-day basis, early modelling in our area suggests we are currently on target to provide the first dose of the vaccine to cohorts 1 to 4 of the JCVI’s schedule by mid-February. In other words, all care home residents and staff, all health and social care workers, all over 70s, and all those deemed clinically extremely vulnerable. To do so, 240,000 vaccines will need to be delivered across South East London over the coming weeks. As it stands, our local teams are on track to complete care home vaccinations by the end of next week.
I have had a lot of residents contact me with various suggestions of potential vaccination sites. It is important to stress, while a range of venues have been considered, there is a long list of eligibility requirements that significantly limit the number of places deemed suitable. Not only are there considerations about the transport and storage of the vaccine, especially in terms of the Pfizer vaccine, but also the layout of the venue itself.
This isn’t as simple as distributing the flu jab. Centres must be large enough to accommodate waiting areas (both for those waiting for the vaccine and those who have just received it, with patients needing to be monitored for 15 minutes afterwards); preferably they should have a one-way system and a separate entrance and exit to allow for social distancing; and they need to be accessible, including for the elderly and those with mobility problems. Vaccines are being delivered in batches of roughly a 1,000, all of which must be administered promptly, so venues also need to have a large enough catchment area to guarantee full usage to avoid waste. Bearing all of that in mind, a lot of premises, including GP surgeries and pharmacies, have been ruled out.
GP practices in Bromley are not, therefore, providing vaccines on site at this time, but are instead identifying the patients on their surgery list who are a priority and need to be vaccinated. This information is then being passed on to the Bromley GP Alliance who are arranging appointments at one of our local vaccine hubs. These are the PRUH, Beckenham Beacon, Orpington Health and Wellbeing Centre, and, as of today, Community House in Bromley, the latter being staffed by clinicians from our local GP practices. Although it will depend on where you live, the delivery of supplies and staffing levels, it is likely that the large majority of us in the Bromley and Chislehurst constituency will be vaccinated at Community House (South Street, BR1 1RH). I know that some will understandably be concerned about getting to and from the vaccine hubs, and I will be pressing health officials to continue exploring the possibility of setting up more localised centres if at all possible.
Both the Pfizer and Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccines are being used locally and appointments are largely being arranged by telephone rather than post. If you fall into one of the priority groups, or have a loved one who does, and have not yet been contacted, please do not worry. The GP Alliance is working through their list and you will not be missed out.
I know that comparisons on progress are being made with other areas, but it is worth keeping in mind that Bromley has a particularly large elderly population (indeed, Bromley is home to more pensioners than any other London Borough). This process will then take time, but importantly, we remain on target.
As I said in my update last week, our local health professionals are under immense pressure. Please do not phone your GP surgery to enquire about your vaccine; you will be contacted when it is your turn. Equally, while it is important that you make every effort to attend your vaccine appointment, please do not arrive excessively early. Once your appointment has been arranged, the vaccine is yours and there is no risk that supplies will run out that day. Turning up early will only mean queuing outside in the cold and increasing your exposure to the virus.
I have been promised more regular progress reports from the CCG and I am therefore hoping to be able to provide residents with more frequent updates on my website and social media going forward. However, given how fast moving this situation is, and how many variants remain, I believe it is important that any information I post is completely accurate. The details above were only confirmed to me this morning. While then I will aim to publish at least weekly updates on progress, I remain of the opinion that the only thing worse than no information is wrong information.
If you have any specific queries you wish to raise with me about the above, or indeed have a question on a separate issue, please email me rather than commenting on my Twitter or Facebook pages. That way I can ensure your message is definitely picked up by either myself or on one of my team.
Our excellent medical professionals are working for all of us in the most difficult of circumstances. Please be patient, and to protect you and your loved ones, continue to follow the rules.