The chief executives of health trusts have received a Covid-19 vaccine while some patients over 80 years old are still waiting for the potentially lifesaving jab, it has emerged.
he row over the vaccination programme intensified on Wednesday night as a leading doctor hit out at the system that means healthcare staff working at home have been given priority over those most at risk of dying from the virus.
Guidance from the UK advisory body the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) states that “as the risk of mortality from Covid-19 increases with age, prioritisation is primarily based on age”.
It recommends that the vaccine should first be offered to care home residents and staff, everyone over 80, and front line health and social care workers.
Front line staff, according to the JCVI, are defined as those involved in direct patient care; non-clinical staff who may come into contact with patients, such as ward clerks, porters and cleaners, laboratory and pathology staff; and front line social care workers.
On Tuesday JCVI deputy chair Prof Anthony Harnden said the body had made clear front line health workers were the priority, and that by vaccinating someone “who isn’t hugely at risk, you’re denying somebody at risk that first dose”.
JCVI has said the vaccine should then be offered to all aged 75 and over, before moving on to everyone aged 70 and over.
At the same time the vaccine should be offered to clinically extremely vulnerable (CEV) patients, as evidence suggests they are as at much risk of serious illness as people in their 70s.
However, it has now emerged that the chief executives of the Belfast, South Eastern, Southern, Northern and Western trusts — Cathy Jack, Seamus McGoran, Shane Devlin, Jennifer Welsh, and Anne Kilgallen respectively — are among those who have received their first Pfizer jab.
The trusts said it had been offered to all staff at all levels since January 4 after front line workers deemed to be most at risk had received their jabs.
Dr Tom Black, chair of the British NI Ireland Council, on Wednesday night said GP surgeries have not yet been able to vaccinate all patients over the age of 80. And he said delays and uncertainty over deliveries of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine had resulted in last-minute cancellations of clinics for their most vulnerable patients, with some GPs describing the system as “a total shambles”.
It comes as the trusts take over the vaccination of people aged between 65 and 69 and some CEV people, while GPs vaccinate anyone aged 70 and over and the majority of CEV patients.
Dr Black said: “In my practice we were expecting 400 doses this week and we got 100, so the clinic we had arranged for tomorrow has now had to be completely rearranged. It means we are now doing the rest of our over-80s and those in their high 70s.
“We now have the curious situation where trusts are starting to bring in 65 to 69-year-old patients before GPs have been given enough vaccines to vaccinate the 70 to 79-year-old cohort. I think we have a fundamental problem at this stage with the vaccination programme.
“The trusts are struggling to find people to vaccinate and that’s why they’re inviting family members, staff on maternity leave who won’t be back for a year, and people who are working from home. They aren’t following the JCVI guidance and GPs are coming to me asking why they can’t get enough vaccine but the trusts have too much.
“GPs are the experts at delivering vaccinations, GPs in England are administering the Pfizer vaccine, so I don’t see why GPs in Northern Ireland can’t.”
Health bosses, including Health Minister Robin Swann, have insisted they are following JCVI guidance in the rollout of the vaccine. Mr Swann said he makes no distinction between clinical and administrative staff, while Patricia Donnelly, who heads up the programme, said: “We are throwing all our weight behind to get as many people vaccinated as soon as possible.”
It came as 527 new cases and a further 16 deaths were reported locally.