Health column: The pivotal role GPs play in delivering the COVID-19 vaccination

Dr Tara Belcher

Dr Tara Belcher - Credit: East and North Hertfordshire NHS Trust

After an unprecedented 2020, ending the year with the announcement that the COVID-19 vaccination programme was getting under way was a great glimmer of hope for millions across the UK.

Here in Hertfordshire, as well as the Lister Hospital and the public vaccination centre at Robertson House in Stevenage, local GP practices are vaccinating many thousands of over 80s and others in priority groups, including people living in care homes for older people and the staff that work there. 

Dr Tara Belcher, GP tells us about the vaccination programme and what it means for the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“The moment that the first vaccine was approved for use in the UK, work started on how the NHS can deliver this to the population, starting with the most vulnerable. 

“Here at Courtney House Surgery in Hitchin, we vaccinated our first patient early in January and have vaccinated over 3,000 people since then, including care home residents and staff.

"Although every year we vaccinate thousands of patients with the flu jab, this vaccine was unique in the way it is stored and delivered so it needed to be done in a different way. Primary Care Networks, groups of GP practices working together, have been able to ensure the most effective and safe delivery in their areas. Our area has a total of 47,000 patients to vaccinate so working together helps that.  

“On day one we realised it takes a whole community to deliver this and I have been amazed at the amount of support we have had from neighbours and businesses in the area. The cold weather hit us hard with concerns about people having to wait outside for a short while before getting into the vaccination centre.

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"The local McMullens brewery donated some patio heaters to keep everyone warm and the Rotary Club donated some gazebos to protect people from the elements. The Rotary Club also helped organise volunteers who have been working hard to manage people in and out of their vaccine appointments. 

"We then had Cain and Abel over the road provide some wheelchairs to help people who needed them to get around the building. Our next door neighbours also let us use their parking spaces to improve patient accessibility, as more people have been visiting the building than normally would. 

“People have been so happy to come in for their vaccinations - some having not been out since March last year. We also have enjoyed seeing people face to face. Having delivered a lot of appointments virtually, it has been lovely to see our patients in person. 

“We are now vaccinating those aged over 75 and will keep working through the nationally agreed priority list of patients. I know lots of people are very excited to get vaccinated but please be patient.

"We know who you are and will contact you as soon as we are ready. GP practices are very busy at the moment – our staff are working hard delivering the vaccinations, as well as managing other urgent health needs, but please get in touch if your issue is urgent. 

“After your vaccination it’s important to keep washing your hands, keep your distance from people and wear a mask when in busy places. It is also important you go for your second dose when invited. 

“It has been a hard time for all but there is a light at the end of the tunnel.” 

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