NI’s under-pressure GPs ready and waiting for Covid booster jab roll-out

GPs are “ready” to roll-out coronavirus booster vaccines as soon as possible, despite the extra strain it will place on already under-pressure services.

By Niall Deeney
Thursday, 2nd September 2021, 4:14 pm
A third shot of vaccine is being offered to immunosuppressed people, ahead of an expected wider booster roll-out
A third shot of vaccine is being offered to immunosuppressed people, ahead of an expected wider booster roll-out

That is according to GP representatives Dr Alan Stout of the British Medical Association (BMA) and Dr Laurence Dorman of the Royal College of GPs in Northern Ireland (RCGPNI).

Both senior medics have spoken about the strain on GP services already, alongside the pressure facing emergency departments in Northern Ireland, with around 200,000 patients per week – approximately a tenth of the population – seeking care from general practice.

To date, Northern Ireland’s coronavirus vaccine programme has closely followed the recommendations of the Joint Committee on Vaccinations and Immunisation (JCVI).

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The body, which advises health departments across the UK, has recommended a third dose for those who are severely immunosuppressed – a group of around half-a-million across the UK.

But the JCVI has yet to give its recommendations for an expected mass roll-out of boosters this autumn.

Last month, BMA NI chair Dr Tom Black told the News Letter medics hoped to get this under way in September.

His BMA colleague, Dr Stout, said GPs are still awaiting guidance from the JCVI before getting the roll-out under way.

RCGPNI chair Dr Dorman, meanwhile, said: “It will depend on the JCVI guidance, and one of the big things we really need to know is whether we can c0-administrate it – whether we can give it with the flu vaccine – and also who they recommend it for.

“We still don’t have confirmation of who needs it, but we expect it will probably be a similar group of people to those who normally get the flu jab.”

He added: “It’s another big ask for us at a time when we are seeing huge amounts of patients, but we will adapt and general practice will meet the challenge because it’s in the national interest. We need to protect our patients.”

On the timeframe, he said: “We are still awaiting the guidance. We would like to start as soon as possible.”

Dr Stout, meanwhile, said: “We don’t know the timeframe yet because we are waiting on JCVI, but it is inevitable they will recommend a booster programme and it is inevitable general practice will have a role in that.

“It will be challenging because it is a lot of work, but we know general practice just does these vaccination programmes so well.”

He added: “It’s an additional demand but it’s also an absolute health priority.”

Meanwhile, the latest figures from the Department of Health at Stormont show that a total of 2,452,955 vaccinations have been administered so far.

Of that total, 1,287,633 were first doses and 1,165,322 were second doses.