GPs have been warned that flu vaccinations could take up to twice as long to deliver during the coronavirus pandemic due to social distancing and personal protective equipment (PPE) requirements.
Guidance issued by the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) this week highlighted that primary care providers are likely to be called upon to deliver “emergency vaccination” as a result of the pandemic.
This may include “significantly expanding the seasonal flu vaccination programme” as well as “delivering mass vaccination against Covid-19”, if a vaccine became available.
But the challenges posed by the need for safe social distancing and protective equipment could extend a GP’s seasonal flu vaccination time to up to six minutes, instead of the normal one to three minutes, the RCGP warned.
Its guidance said the coronavirus pandemic would pose a “specific set of challenges to achieving high volume throughput” on vaccinations.
It stated: “For example, it is likely that enhanced standards of infection prevention and control will be needed, and larger spaces may be necessary to maintain safe social distancing.
“Premises normally used to undertake vaccination (GP surgeries, pharmacies, schools) are likely to be impacted by any restrictions of social distancing, if in place.
“Creating a safe flow of patients to achieve the high throughput to vaccinate large numbers may be difficult, and impossible in some.”
The guidance also highlighted that the use of PPE would see “increased time necessary for immunisers to prepare for each patient”.
It continued: “Under normal circumstances, well-organised, properly supported flu clinics may be able to vaccinate patients at rates as high as one patient per vaccinator every one to three minutes, as part of a patient journey around 15 minutes in length,” the guidance said.
“In these altered circumstances, we estimate that the actual vaccination process may take at least four minutes, and potentially five to six minutes depending on the PPE requirements.
“This is in comparison with a normal GP throughput of between one and three minutes per seasonal flu vaccination.”
The guidance warned that, unless the number of vaccinators is increased, this “will have significant implications for the time taken to vaccinate a population”.
The RCGP also highlighted the need to factor in staff breaks and processing patients through registration and queues.
Last week, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the Government had procured enough vaccine to roll out the “biggest flu vaccination programme in history”.
He said planning is under way for dealing with the expected surge in demand on the NHS due to seasonal pressures over winter, including flu.
“A similar population may need urgent vaccination against Covid-19 in the first instance,” it added.
It also warned: “Any large-scale vaccination programme will need to be delivered by a workforce which is facing additional demand due to the longer-term impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown, and which may have reduced capacity, due to the need to protect vulnerable staff from frontline work and for potentially infected staff to self-isolate.”
The RCGP said services or facilities “may need to be altered or enhanced” to ensure vaccination programmes are “successful”.
It continued: “Furthermore, specific requirements, such as social distancing measures, may be subject to rapid change.
“Plans should therefore be based around a reasonable worst-case scenario for delivering the vaccine.”