Hospitals have revealed that they have been warned that they could lose their licence to distribute Covid-19 vaccines if they administer second doses to anyone before 12 weeks have passed since their first jab.
In a message sent to vaccinators at the University Hospital Southampton Foundation Trust, and seen by The Independent, staff were told that the hospital’s chief executive had been given “crystal clear” instructions that no second doses should be issued to any patients prior to passing the 12 week mark.
‘Risk losing our licence’
As the vaccine rollout kicked off across the UK, the government announced that it thought that since the efficacy of the vaccine’s would reach 89 per cent with just one dose, that it was more important to prioritise vaccinating as many people as possible with just the first jab, rather than holding back vaccines to issue the second dose.
Caroline Marshall, former chief operating officer at University Hospital Southampton Foundation Trust, who has returned to work during the pandemic, told staff on Tuesday: “This has become of the highest political import.
“David French, our CEO, has been sent a letter which is absolutely crystal clear and leaves nothing to the imagination - we are not to offer any second vaccines before 12 weeks under any circumstances, at risk of losing our licence.
“This is not at the present time negotiable in any way. A region near us has given 34 second doses and are being investigated centrally.”
‘Complete refusal to grant permission for second doses’
Marshall explained that the chief pharmacist of the Trust has received examples of bids for compassionate exceptions in order to issue a second dose prior to 12 weeks passing.
One example included the case of a soldier being deployed to a country without vaccines - Marshall said that this was not permitted, and that the soldier had been deployed without the second dose.
She said: “At the moment, there is a complete refusal at the highest levels of the NHS/government to grant permission for second doses before 12 weeks.”
‘No vaccine has been wasted’
A spokesperson for the University Hospital Southampton Foundation Trust said: “We have been successfully rolling out a vaccination programme to the priority cohorts as determined by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation.
“No vaccine has been wasted as we have progressed through our first dose programme, offering a second dose 12 weeks after the first, which is in line with national guidance.”
‘Ill thought out policy’
The Hospital Consultants and Specialists Associated (HCSA) has criticised the delays in giving NHS staff a second dose of the vaccine, and urged hospitals to deliver the second dose within the 28 days as planned.
HCSA General Secretary Dr Paul Donaldson said: “There is a notable difference between the timing of the second dose of the new Oxford vaccine, which the manufacturers AstraZeneca state can be administered later, and the Pfizer vaccine where there is no evidence of the efficacy of doing so past 28 days.
“While a planned and orderly deployment of the Oxford vaccination including longer timelines makes epidemiological sense, the decision to throw a spanner in the works of the existing Pfizer rollout appears simply bizarre unless there is an unknown hitch in supply.
“We are hearing that vulnerable hospital doctors at high risk from Covid have been told not to turn up for their second dose and therefore will not receive full protection. They are now left in limbo by a hastily formulated policy which seems extremely ill thought out.”
Donaldson explained that this approach to issuing the vaccine is “illogical in the face of a lengthy second wave of Covid-19” and is creating “huge anxiety”.
He added: “HCSA is urging NHS employers and the Department of Health to come to their senses and go ahead with the second jabs of the Pfizer vaccine for all vulnerable NHS staff within 28 days of their first.
“Front line healthcare workers must be a priority too as the Oxford vaccine is rolled out.”