NHS England’s top GP has confirmed that Covid vaccine supplies are being diverted away from the North East to allow other parts of the country to catch up.
The region’s leaders reacted with fury this week after reports that supplies sent to GP practices in the North East and Yorkshire will be slashed from 200,000 to 100,000 next week – because vaccinations of the most vulnerable people have been conducted more quickly here than other parts of the country.
Now NHS England’s medical director of Primary Care has confirmed that vaccine deliveries are being “changed” to help regions that are not vaccinating their highest priority residents as quickly.
Dr Nikki Kanani, a GP in south-east London, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that she “understood the frustrations” of regional leaders in the North, but that “our job is to make sure people have access to the vaccine”.
Statistics have revealed a huge geographical difference in the number of people that have been vaccinated against Covid-19 from the highest priority groups - including over-80s and care home residents.
While the North East and Yorkshire has vaccinated around 67% of people from those groups, just over a third have received the jabs in Suffolk and North East Essex.
GPs in some regions of the UK are now ready to begin vaccinating over-70’s after finishing their roll out to other prioritised groups.
Dr Kanani said that while vaccine supply is limited, delivery had to be changed to make sure the most vulnerable people were targeted.
She said: “This is a huge programme and it’s off to an incredible start, with more than five million people already vaccinated over a matter of weeks
“But areas do vary a lot in size and population and we’re making sure sites like these are getting the vaccines they need
“What will happen over the next week or so is that areas that, for many reasons including doing their usual GP work, haven’t been able to deliver vaccines as quickly as other areas, will be able to do so.”
Asked whether that meant vaccine supply was being diverted away from areas with higher rates of vaccination, such as Yorkshire and the North East, Dr Kanani said “yes”.
She added: “I understand my colleagues’ frustration, particularly in the northern areas.
“They have done an incredible job getting through their top priority cohorts - the over-80s and health and social care staff.
“And so while we have supply that is constrained, we need to make sure that in the areas where people are not vaccinated, our priority is to make sure the top priority groups are vaccinated as soon as possible.
“So we need to target our deliveries to make sure they are going to areas where there are more people left to vaccinate in the top priority cohorts.”
Dr Kanani confirmed: “We are changing the delivery of the vaccines to try and address [the geographical differences]. We’re looking at it all the time.
“Our job is to make sure that, across the country, people have equal access to the vaccine.
“We need to make sure we target it so every area gets the opportunity to get its over-80s and care home staff and residents vaccinated.”