Local GP Speaks Out As Vaccine Availability Dries Up

Says effort to give out as many jabs as possible affected by inconsistent supply

Dr Carolyn Bayer (left) with nurse Bethany Elwis Dr Carolyn Bayer (left) with nurse Bethany Elwis

January 20, 2021

A local GP has spoken out about the need for more regular deliveries of the coronavirus vaccine to local centres, after she ran out of vaccines this week.

Dr Carolyn Bayer is a GP at Bridge Lane Group Practice in Battersea and the Clinical Director of Battersea Primary Care Network, whose five practices are working together with seven other Battersea practices to deliver the Covid vaccination programme from The Junction Health Centre.

They received their first batch of Pfizer jabs on 8 January, leading to a “fast and furious” effort to get as many local people in the priority groups vaccinated as quickly as possible.

But they had to stop again just a week later.

She told the Local Democracy Reporting Service: “There is just a concern about having the consistent supply of vaccines. It’s been a huge amount of work to set up these sites. We’re working in a local team, which is a mixture of staff from our local practices and volunteers, and we want to vaccinate as fast as we can.

“There are some limitations on the sites that we’re working in. We can’t, for example, fit 10 vaccinators in our site, we can only fit four or five. But, you know, we can vaccinate 400 people a day. But we haven’t been able to vaccinate any days this week. We stopped on Friday (January 15) and we’re starting again this Saturday (January 23), so we’ve had a week’s gap.”

She said at one point the team were told their next delivery was only going to be 400 vaccines for almost a two-week period, but thankfully that was changed to 1,200 after the intervention of the local Clinical Commissioning Group.

“They have been working very hard for us. They flagged it up and worked to get our delivery increased. That was based on the fact that they’re aware that we do have big cohorts of over 80s and over 75s, and so they managed, whatever they did, to divert some to us, which is very good news. That means that we can run the clinic for three days this weekend instead of one.

“But we would have done our best, if we were offered the vaccine earlier this week to have got the clinic back up and running and basically we could go quicker,” she said.

“We’re also very conscious that we’ve got a lot of very vulnerable people who we want to vaccinate as locally as possible. So, you know, although there may be invites going out to places that are quite a long way away, like the Excel Centre or wherever else, we want to be able to offer, particularly our vulnerable patients, vaccines as locally as possible.

“I think that’s particularly important now with the next group that we’re going to be offering, which is the clinically extremely vulnerable or shielding patients.

“Because when we see patients in our centre, we see how anxious they are, because some of them really haven’t left the house for months, and we think that it’s reassuring for them to be able to go to a very local centre without having to travel and to be vaccinated by teams of local GPs and people that they know.”

Other frustrations include non-specific delivery times for new batches of the vaccine.

“We appreciate that logistics are really, really difficult. But at the start, they were giving slightly more notice of when the deliveries were coming. But now we’re basically told that on the day when we’re expecting delivery, it will become between 8am and 6:30pm and then the day before we will be told a more accurate slot,” said Dr Bayer.

“But because of that wide delivery slot it’s really difficult for us to vaccinate the day the delivery arrives. We have been advised to plan to start the next morning.”

This causes complications for the Pfizer vaccine which has a short shelf life.

“It is a bit difficult to plan because when we hear about a delivery we then have to staff the clinic, and there’s a lot of staff involved and volunteers,” said Dr Bayer.

“We’ve got a really good group of people. The Junction Health Centre team has been so accommodating and supportive, and we are so grateful to them. The volunteers have been amazing and very dedicated and we’ve got a lot of practice staff coming forward. But every day that the clinic is running we need a lot of staff and volunteers, often at short notice.

“We appreciate that the bigger vaccine centres are needed, but particularly for these groups, we do believe that they are best looked after locally,” she said.

Although there have been teething problems, Dr Bayer says she is proud of how many people the Battersea teams have been able to vaccinate so far.

After receiving two batches in very quick succession of approximately 1,000 vaccines each, the team have been able to deliver approximately 400 vaccinations a day in their first week.

“The staff at the practices have worked incredibly hard, because, you know, particularly for the older patients, the majority of them needed to be contacted individually. So although we were using a text based system as well so we can send text invites that they can book their own appointments, particularly for the more elderly, that was backed up by a call from a GP practice for almost every patient.

“In the first three days I think we did 1,200 patients. You know, that’s 1,200 calls from the practices. So it’s quite time consuming. But the practices did incredibly well. The clinic was absolutely full. And that was almost all patients over the age of 80, or health care workers.

“We also reached out to local pharmacies. We’re very conscious of the fact that there are lots of other health care workers that are not practice based. So we were ringing around all of our local pharmacies, and we brought down a lot of pharmacy staff to be vaccinated as well, in the first few days.”

The Primary Care Network has just over 2,000 over 80s registered, and at the last check, the team estimated they had vaccinated approximately 70 per cent of this group.

She explains that not every patient can accept the vaccine because they may have had COVID recently, for example. Others simply may not want it, but the Battersea practice teams have attempted to contact all of their patients in this group.

The local CCG also thanked residents for their patience and for waiting to be contacted.

They reiterated that the NHS will let people know when it is their turn to have a vaccine and it is important not to contact the NHS before then.

People should not turn up to a vaccination centre without an appointment.

A spokesperson for the NHS in London said, “Vaccinations are taking place in locations all over south west London and the rest of the capital, at locations including hospitals, large vaccination centres and GP surgeries, to ensure everyone eligible can get their jab in a safe and convenient way. We urge Londoners to come forward to get their vaccine when invited by the NHS to do so.”

A government spokesperson said, “To ensure that the UK population had access to the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine as quickly as possible, manufacturing of vaccines was started, at risk, in the autumn of last year. This has meant we had a running start on our vaccination programme here in the UK and that vaccinations could start within just a few days of approval.

“We continue to plan to hit our target of vaccinating all four priority groups by 15 February.”

Sian Bayley, Local Democracy reporter