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Fears shaky vaccine supply could stop Greater Manchester hitting February target – Manchester Evening News

https://www.manchestereveningnews.co.uk/news/greater-manchester-news/fears-shaky-vaccine-supply-could-19613435

Nerves are growing within the Greater Manchester system about whether the current stop-start rate of vaccine supply will be sufficient to hit government targets by mid-February.

Some areas are understood to have received barely half as many doses this week as they have capacity to deliver, while across the board there is worry about the last-minute nature of their arrival from the national distribution system – meaning local health officials and GPs are struggling to plan and staff appointments.

Andy Burnham said the system’s ‘biggest concern’ was now ensuring sufficient supply to get all priority groups vaccinated in the next month, while one Salford MP warned there is currently ‘little notice, sometimes none at all’ of the vaccine’s arrival to local hubs.

Multiple health officials said that lack of advanced warning was making it difficult to plan and staff appointments.

It comes as public health departments still do not have the data to tell them exactly who has been vaccinated so far – in echoes of last summer’s row over testing data, which took months to resolve – or even the ethnic breakdown of those who have been inoculated, while some elderly Greater Manchester residents have received national letters offering vaccination appointments in Birmingham.

Members of the public enter the national vaccination hub at the Etihad tennis centre, which opened yesterday
(Image: PA)

The government has insisted there is ‘no national supply issue’ in getting the country’s doses out to local levels, arguing that it would be ‘unwise’ to give precise details of the national stockpile given the global race for doses. 

Many within the system believe current issues may well still be down to teething problems. But the key worry preoccupying many health leaders is nevertheless supply over the next month.

On Sunday night, during a webinar, local health figures from across the country were told by NHS England boss Sir Simon Stevens that total national supply is currently constrained, so will now be targeted in areas that have, for whatever reason, been slower at getting jabs into people’s arms.

“Basically they are having problems getting the vaccine supply into the country – it’s not clear why,” said one local health figure familiar with the discussion.

“And therefore the national ‘push’ distribution will concentrate on those parts of the country where they haven’t been so good at jabbing.”

That has raised fears in some parts of Greater Manchester that their vaccine supply is now being ‘rationed’.

One Trafford council insider said they had more than twice as much capacity this week as vaccine.

“There isn’t the supply, basically, so we are receiving significantly below what we have the capacity to deliver,” they said.

Vaccination pods stand on what were three tennis courts at the Etihad Regional Tennis Centre
(Image: Manchester Evening News)

“I reckon we have less than half the supply we have capacity to deliver. I understand it’s a conscious decision to tell us that we are being sent less to equalise things.”

The picture across Greater Manchester appears to vary, however, with boroughs such as Manchester and Rochdale both being told they will now receive more doses than originally expected this week and next.

Some believe the approach applied by the government makes sense if national supplies are restricted, albeit for reasons that remain unclear.

“To some, it’s rationing – and to some it’s catching up,” said one senior councillor.

But what remains in doubt, they added, was the total supply that would come forward between now and mid-February, given that Greater Manchester needs to vaccinate 90,000 people a week between now and then if it is to hit the government’s target of inoculating all 556,000 people in the top four priority groups by that point.

“The bigger story is whether there is enough vaccine to take us to February,” they said.

“Cynics like me would say not a chance.”

Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham echoed significant concerns about supply.

Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham
(Image: Vincent Cole Manchester Evening News)

While grateful to the local NHS – helped by councils – for accelerating vaccine delivery, which has now seen 100,000 people here inoculated, he said, or around 50,000 in the past six days, one key worry remained.

“Our biggest concern at the moment is receiving sufficient supply of vaccine to be able to meet the government’s mid-February target,” he said. 

“Some of our localities will this week be receiving a significantly smaller supply of vaccine than they would want. I have today raised this with the minister and we will be working with the government to address this.

“It is important to reassure people in the priority groups that they have a choice over where to receive their vaccination. If they’ve had a letter inviting them to book in at the Greater Manchester NHS Vaccination Centre at the Etihad they can do that, or wait to be invited to a local centre.”

While not every area is concerned about this week’s supply, there are worries across the piece that batches arrive at short notice under what is known as the national ‘push’ model.

That means they are issued by the national system, with local vaccination centres having no control and little prior warning about when a vaccine – in the case of the Pfizer doses, one with a very short shelf life – will appear.

One of Manchester’s local vaccination centres is at the Whalley Range Tennis Club.

Speaking at this afternoon’s Manchester health scrutiny committee, Dr Manisha Kumar, executive clinical director at Manchester Health and Commissioning, which is overseeing the city’s community roll-out, said this was causing difficulties.

“Currently vaccine supply is done on what we call a push model,” she said. “We have no local control about what arrives when, but we’re being told nationally a week in advance, at best, about what vaccination is coming to which site.

“And therefore you might have found some of your residents saying they haven’t had much notice of when they’re getting their vaccine. And again that’s been quite hard for them to manage, to arrange transport and to arrange support.”

She said health officials had been assured that vaccine supply would become more stable.

In Salford, where so far there have been around 12,000 doses administered, there have also been concerns about the difficulty an unreliable vaccine supply poses for the local system.

The city received no doses at all between Christmas and last week.

Rebecca Long-Bailey

While two more vaccination centres – in Eccles and Irlam – are being stood up in the next few days, Salford and Eccles MP Rebecca Long Bailey said the inability of local officials to plan ahead was causing major difficulties. 

“In Salford our local NHS vaccine planners have been significantly impeded by government,” she said.

“They receive little notice, sometimes none at all, that a delivery of the vaccine from government is due, some planned batches haven’t arrived at all and with the Pfizer vaccine particularly (which was the one largely delivered so far), its short expiry date means it must be administered within a matter of days.

“Its fragility also means that it must not be moved about so once a batch arrives our local NHS immediately sets about arranging appointments, particularly with vulnerable people, who will often need assistance getting to and from a centre.”

Meanwhile public health departments are still not getting clear data on who has received the vaccine, in echoes of the row over pillar two testing data last summer.

That saw local areas battle for months to find out from government who in their areas had tested positive in private labs, before the argument was finally won after Leicester was put under local lockdown.

A nurse prepares to administer the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine
(Image: Getty Images)

This time they do not know who in their borough has received the jab, or even roughly where they live or what ethnicity they are.

Speaking at last week’s Greater Manchester press conference, Sir Richard Leese, Manchester council leader and the region’s political lead for health, said public health departments were now in ‘exactly the same position’ as with pillar 2 tests last May.

“If we get all of the dosages we need, as things stand at the moment we will not know whether we have vaccinated all the right people or not,” he said.

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This afternoon Joanne Roney, chief executive of Manchester council and President of Solace, the national network of council chief executives, issued a statement making clear that issue was yet to be resolved.

Councils would only be able to ‘play a full part’ in the roll-out if local, regional and national bodies ‘share all the relevant data, including on vaccine supply, with us in a timely manner’, she said.

“This will allow councils to effectively monitor vaccination take-up rates across different areas and groups of residents,” she added, so they can spot if certain groups of people or geographical areas were missing out.

Patricia Smethurst receives a vaccine at the Etihad on Monday
(Image: Manchester Evening News)

One senior council source said they had been reassured by government that the problem would be ironed out in a couple of weeks, although a second said the system had also been told the issue was around supposed ‘commercial confidentiality’ of the data.

Despite the various concerns, there remain hopes that the current issues are initial hitches and that all of the first wave of people – care home residents, the over-70s, health and social care staff and those with high-risk health conditions – will be vaccinated by the government target of mid-February.

Greater Manchester has more than doubled the numbers who have received the jab in the last seven days and by the end of the week it is intending to have stood up all 78 of its primary care-led local sites.

Some pharmacies are also coming online, with Manchester’s including one in Cheetham, one in the city centre and two in Whalley Range, but others due to follow.

But the challenge remains significant. 

The Prime Minister has said previously that ‘with a fair wind’ the top priority groups will get the jab by mid-February, noted Sir Richard last week.

“I’d have to say we need a bit of a gale in order to achieve that target,” he said. “But let’s hope that we do.”

A man queues for his Covid-19 vaccine
(Image: Manchester Evening News)

What the government says

A spokesman for the Department of Health and Social Care said there was ‘no national supply issue in getting Covid-19 vaccines to local vaccination sites’.

The department said both supply and scheduled deliveries would ‘fully support vaccination’ of everyone within the top four priority groups by February 15, meaning care homes, health and care staff, the over-70s and those with high-risk clinical conditions.

Vaccines are a precious resource in very high demand across the world, it added, so ‘for obvious reasons’ it does not want to provide detail about size of supplies or exact detail of future national deliveries.

While the UK is in a ‘very strong position’ with ‘millions’ of doses and ‘tens of millions on the way’, there is nonetheless a global race for vaccines, said the DHSC, with some countries so far having none at all and others in negotiations to get more.

Therefore, it said, it would be ‘unwise’ to provide exact details of stock and deliveries.

“So far over 2 million people in England have been vaccinated and the NHS is doing everything possible to roll out doses as quickly as they can be supplied and quality checked,” the spokesman added.

“The Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine is being rolled out to GP surgeries and vaccinations are taking place at over 1,000 sites, including large scale vaccination centres from this week.

“The NHS will be offering a vaccination to everyone in the top four priority groups as set out by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation – a total of 13.9 million people – by 15 February.”