Camden health professionals have spoken this week of the borough-wide efforts to deliver the vaccine for coronavirus from early next week.
The first primary care site to go live will be based at the Bloomsbury Surgery, alongside the Belsize Priory Medical Practice and another hub at the Royal Free Hospital.
The news came as part of an update on Covid in the borough delivered by Piers Simey, the Town Hall’s acting director of public health, as London faces the prospect of further restrictions through the tiered system as new infections continue to rise.
Simey said: “It’s amazing what happens in the space of a week in terms of the changing face of Covid.
“Within Camden, where our rate over lockdown decreased quite significantly and remained with the lowest rates across the capital, but in other areas lockdown did not have so much of an impact on their rates.
“London as a region if not the highest in the country is certainly above the English average.
“It is fantastic news around the first people in the country being vaccinated, and indeed at the Royal Free which was our first vaccined individual. The Royal Free has received a batch of just under 1,000 vaccines and they are vaccinating people according to national priority groups, working with the oldest and those working with the vulnerable first and cascading down from there.”
Simey added that the health network is now investigating priority groups to set up asymptomatic testing, with those receiving extra care and in assisted living seen as a first step, with professionals now tackling the logistical challenges of getting the vaccine to people who are housebound and procedures being established to enable pharmacies to distribute it.
At every stage, Simey emphasised, considerations around equality of access are being put in place, with the public health boss’ team looking ahead to when the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine becomes licensed as a help to current logistics.
It is understood that the Royal Free is a key site in the delivery of the vaccine, having already started vaccinating patients and staff, with work underway with the council to ensure care home workers are workers are vaccinated and the process accelerated for care home residents and other care settings.
Twelve sites have now been approved across North Central London for delivery of the vaccine in primary care GP settings.
Camden GP Kevin Richey said: “GPs are moving heaven and earth to try to deliver vaccines, putting service models into place at very short notice with minimal information, as it is an undertaking that can change all of our lives.
“We’re ready to go early next week. GP services are small businesses, and we are trying to provide a normal service to all our patients, but we understand the priority here and are prioritising all that is necessary in this challenging time.”
Sally MacKinnon, transformation director for Camden’s clinical commissioning group (CCG), called on councillors and health professionals to all support the announcements as positive news, revealing that there is already “quite a bit of reluctance” on the part of both patients and staff to receive the vaccine, with the CCG boss adding that GPs’ strong relationship with most residents will help with the uptake rate.
Simey was also quizzed around concerns over the reliability of lateral flow tests for asymptomatic people, with one recent community testing pilot in Liverpool showing that the tests only picked up half the Covid cases picked up by polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests.
The public health chief said: “There has been a lot of debate around the evidence of this, primarily relating to a very accessible test. Does it lead to more false positives or more false negatives than we would like? A range of research shows that if done thoroughly with training and support, you can reduce the chance of false results.
“The consequences of this are important, specifically in the context of care home visitors. If people were tested and have a negative test, we don’t want thm to go on to hug and kiss granny without maintaining proper public health safety measures. It’s a balance of risk and benefits…and clear communication about what a result means and what it does not mean.”