In December, everyone given a first vaccine by Pfizer was told to come back for their second dose three weeks later. But the strategy was changed 10 days ago in a bid to get a first dose to more of the population more quickly.
Patients are now being told they will have to wait 12 weeks for the second dose, with a reassurance from health officials that the longer gap could strengthen its effectiveness.
By the time the plan was changed, around one million people had already been booked in for their second dose. GPs are now under orders to postpone such appointments and instead give the slots to those awaiting a first dose.
A letter from senior NHS officials, seen by The Telegraph, reveals that centres that are running the scheme have been offered £1,000 towards the costs of cancelling and rebooking patients.
The letter from Dr Nikita Kanani, the medical director for primary care, and Ed Waller, the director of primary care, dated December 31, says the changes in the strategy mean “the system will now be delaying second doses and cancelling large numbers of appointments next week onwards”.
While the moves are critical to protect health for more patients, they have “significant administrative implications”, it says. It directs GPs to a script “produced to support these challenging conversations” and promises financial support for those following the instructions.
“We have announced a payment of £1,000 that can be made to all PCN [Primary Care Network] sites that will need to undertake this process. The payment will be made by NHS England and NHS Improvement following CCG confirmation of which sites are undertaking the rebooking process,” it says.
Many GPs have refused to carry out the orders, with Nadhim Zahawi, the vaccines minister, saying this week that they have “discretion” to honour existing appointments. On Friday, Boris Johnson’s father, Stanley, said he was about to have his second dose of the Pfizer jab.