A shifting national context
As we head into winter of 2021, against a backdrop of growing pandemic and wider workload pressures and severe workforce shortages, the Omicron strain of the COVID-19 virus poses a significant public health risk, as we know that it is highly transmissible and that two doses of COVID-19 vaccines do not offer adequate protection against contracting the virus. Although we do not yet have the full picture of what this means in terms of serious illness and the impact on life, we do know that health services are expected to experience additional strain over the coming weeks. Evidence also indicates that a 'booster' vaccine does offers a dramatically improved level of protection. The Government has therefore set out guidance to ramp up the COVID-19 vaccine booster campaign, including enabling more flexibility to transfer vaccine to individual practices, and general practice is being asked to play a key role in this over the coming weeks.
The NHSEI letter 'National call: Next steps for the NHS COVID-19 vaccine deployment', sent on 13th December, asks all general practice teams to "clinically prioritise services to free up maximum capacity to support the COVID-19 vaccination programme alongside delivering urgent or emergency care and other critical services such as cancer. That could include pausing routine and non-urgent care and redeploying staff to support delivery of COVID-19 vaccinations."