The NHS is to provide GPs an extra £10 for every care home resident they vaccinate against Covid by the end of January in an accelerated drive to protect the most vulnerable.
The NHS vaccination programme, the biggest in health service history, is being expanded after regulators approved the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine yesterday.
A total of 786,000 people have received a Covid jab from the NHS between December 8 and last Sunday.
Around two thirds, some 524,439, were delivered to people aged 80 and over who are particularly vulnerable to the virus.
The logistical challenges of using the Pfizer vaccine, which was the first to be approved by regulators, made it difficult to use in care homes. The vaccine needs to be kept at -70 degrees until it is ready to be used and can only be moved a limited number of times.
The Oxford-AstraZeneca jab can be kept at fridge temperature and transported more easily, making it easier to get to care home residents.
As the regulators and the chief medical officers have now specified more flexibility on timing of second doses, this also means that more first doses of vaccines should be available for the NHS in January than in December.
The £10 per jab additional funding for GPs to prioritise care homes is expected to see the majority of those residents vaccinated by the end of January and all those who have not had the jab are expected to have an appointment by then.
NHS staff are also being prioritised now that more vaccine is available.
Dr Nikki Kanani, GP and NHS medical director for primary care, said: “Three quarters of a million people have now received the Pfizer vaccine thanks to the tireless efforts of NHS staff who have given up time with their families over Christmas to deliver vaccines at the same times as treating record numbers of seriously-ill patients with Covid-19.
“As we head into the New Year with a second vaccine that is also more versatile we will be able to expand the programme and ensure that the majority of care home residents are protected within the next four weeks or so.
“It is also great news that we will be able to begin vaccinating NHS staff serving on the frontline to protect them against coronavirus.”
NHS organisations have also been asked to start vaccinating nurses, doctors and other staff immediately, as additional supplies become available. Until now they were only being jabbed if vaccine was going to be unused.
Priority groups for vaccination in this initial phase were determined by Government following advice from the JCVI and were people aged 80 and over as well as care home residents and staff.
New guidance now means that second doses of the Pfizer jabs will be administered up to 12 weeks after the first, rather than as soon as possible as was previously the case. This is to allow the roll out of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine.
The Joint Committee on Vaccinations and Immunisations (JCVI) updated advice published on yesterday says the second dose of the Pfizer vaccine should be provided between three and 12 weeks after the first dose and the Oxford vaccine between four and 12 weeks later.