UK to vaccinate out of pandemic by looking to local GPs

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FILE - In this Tuesday Dec. 8, 2020 file photo, 90 year old Margaret Keenan, the first patient in the UK to receive the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, administered by nurse May Parsons at University Hospital, Coventry, England. Britain races to vaccinate more than 15 million people by mid-February, and in an effort to ensure vaccines get to the right places at the right times, along with the syringes, alcohol swabs and protective equipment needed to administer them, the government has called in the army. (Jacob King/Pool via AP, File)

LONDON – British Health Secretary Matt Hancock turned up at a doctor’s office in London this week to highlight the start of coronavirus vaccinations by local general practitioners.

There was only one problem: There was no vaccine. It didn’t arrive in time for Hancock’s press event.

It was an embarrassing moment for the U.K.’s top health official and a reminder of the challenges Britain faces as it races to vaccinate some 15 million people by mid-February.

GPs like Dr. Ammara Hughes are crucial to the National Health Service’s plan to expand vaccinations from hospitals and clinics to doctors' offices around the country.

“It’s just more frustrating than a concern,” Dr. Hughes told Sky News. “If we had a regular supply, we do have the capacity to vaccinate 3,000-4,000 patients a week … which would ease the pressure on the health service and we could get more and more people vaccinated quickly, and hopefully get out of the pandemic.”

To ensure vaccines get to the right place at the right time, along with the syringes, alcohol swabs and protective equipment needed to administer them, the government has called in the army.

Brigadier Phil Prosser is leading the army’s response. He is commander of 101 Logistics Brigade, which normally delivers supplies to British forces in war zones.

“My team are used to complexity and building supply chains at speed in the most arduous and challenging conditions,” Prosser said during a briefing Thursday. “In this case, the mission is to support the NHS in delivering the maximum amount of vaccine to minimize the number of infections and deaths as quickly and as safely as possible.”