Health secretary to consider Oxford vaccine-only contract for rural GPs

Health secretary Matt Hancock has said he will ‘take into account’ requests for rural GP practices to be able to sign up to deliver the AstraZeneca Covid vaccine only in the future.

Mr Hancock was speaking in a House of Commons debate on the vaccine rollout last week when he said he would consider a contract for rural practices that would ensure they would not need to administer the Pfizer vaccine.

But he also said that the currently ‘lumpy’ vaccine supply meant that ‘at the moment… we must use the [Covid vaccination] contract that we have’.

He was speaking in response to a question from Conservative MP for East Sussex Huw Merriman, who had asked for ‘a new vaccine contract’ to be drawn up for GP practices to administer only the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine.

The MP had made the point that rural GP practices in his constituency would struggle to participate in the vaccine effort with the difficult-to-store Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine.

Already, 200 community pharmacy sites have gone live administering only the AstraZeneca vaccine.

Mr Merriman said: ‘Many GPs in my area tell me that they will sign the contract if they can get AstraZeneca only, so it would be just like the pharmacy contract.’

It comes as GPs last week spoke out against the expansion of Covid vaccine delivery to community pharmacies, saying they already have capacity to administer much more vaccine than they are receiving.

Mr Hancock answered that the ‘challenge is essentially that we have a lumpy supply’, adding that ‘therefore it is not possible to give certainty as far out as many GPs and those who are delivering on the ground would like’. 

He said: ‘The worst thing would be to give false certainty. We do try to give information about what is coming next week, but until the supply smooths out, as I am sure it will over time, going further out than that would give false certainty. 

‘The worst thing would be to have GPs across the country booking in large numbers of people and having to reschedule those appointments unnecessarily.’

But he added: ‘I will take into account the point that the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine is easier to deliver in rural areas, and the request for some people to be able to do that.

‘At the moment, however, we must use the contract that we have.’

NHS England has previously said that the vaccine rollout would be ‘initially focusing on sites that can deliver high volumes’, adding that as the programme progresses it would be ‘looking at other delivery models’.

A version of this article was first published by Pulse’s sister title Management in Practice