Pharmacy staff will be prioritised for Covid vaccination based on their personal risk level, exposure and amount of contact with vulnerable people, the UK Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) has said.

The UK JCVI’s latest prioritisation list, updated today (3 December), maintains frontline health and social care staff as the second priority, while moving the ‘clinically extremely vulnerable’ up to the fourth spot.

The document said: ‘Frontline health and social care workers at high risk of acquiring infection, at high individual risk of developing serious disease, or at risk of transmitting infection to multiple vulnerable persons or other staff in a health care environment are considered of higher priority for vaccination than those at lower risk. This prioritisation should be taken into account during vaccine deployment.'

The JCVI committee said protecting frontline health and social care workers protects ‘the health and social care service and recognises the risks that they face in this service’.

‘Even a small reduction in transmission arising from vaccination would add to the benefits of vaccination, by reducing transmission from health and social care workers to multiple vulnerable patients and other staff members,’ it said.

Under the JCVI guidance, this group will also include staff working in hospice care and those working temporarily in the Covid-19 vaccination programme who provide face-to-face clinical care.

Not compulsory

Speaking at a press conference yesterday (2 December), Professor Wei Shen Lim, JCVI chair of Covid-19 immunisation, said: ‘At the moment, there is no suggestion that the offer of vaccination should be compulsorily taken up.

‘It is always an offer of vaccination and whether someone wants to have a vaccine or not – whether they’re in the NHS or not – is at the moment a voluntary thing.’

However, the Professor also noted the JCVI ‘is not a policy-making body’ and that relevant policy will be made by ministers.

In the update, JCVI presented the latest prioritisation list for Covid vaccinations as:

1. Residents in a care home for older adults and their carers

2. All those 80 years of age and over. Frontline health and social care workers

3. All those 75 years of age and over

4. All those 70 years of age and over. Clinically extremely vulnerable individuals

5. All those 65 years of age and over

6. All individuals aged 16 years to 64 years with underlying health conditions which put them at higher risk of serious disease and mortality

7. All those 60 years of age and over

8. All those 55 years of age and over

9. All those 50 years of age and over

Previously, ‘high-risk adults under 65 years of age’ were the sixth priority and ‘moderate-risk adults under 65 years of age’ were the seventh.

The rest of the priority order remains unchanged.

The JCVI ‘hopes’ that 90-99% of those ‘at risk of dying’ from Covid will be ‘included or covered’ during the first phase of the vaccine rollout, Professor Lim added.

But he also warned that vaccine supply ‘will be limited in the first instance’.

He said: ‘The whole reason why a priority listing is required is that we expect during a pandemic that vaccine supply will be limited in the first instance and so vaccines should be offered in the first instance to the most vulnerable, moving down the priority list.’

BAME groups

The updated document also said that ‘good vaccine coverage’ of BAME groups will be ‘the most important factor within a vaccine programme in reducing inequalities for this group’.

Research carried out earlier in the pandemic showed certain BAME groups have experienced higher rates of infection and higher rates of serious illness or death after contracting Covid-19.

‘Prioritisation of persons with underlying health conditions will also provide for greater vaccination of BAME communities who are disproportionately affected by such health conditions,’ the JCVI said.

The committee advised NHS England, the Government, Public Health England, and the devolved administrations to work together ‘to ensure that inequalities are identified and addressed in implementation’ of the vaccination programme.

Vaccination programme

Last week, NHS England and Improvement (NHSE&I) said a ‘limited’ number of community pharmacy sites – who are able to meet a set of specific requirements – will be selected to administer Covid-19 vaccinations.

The selected pharmacies will be paid £12.58 per vaccination or £25.16 if the vaccination requires two doses, with payment made on completion of the final dose.

NHSE&I said that the majority of pharmacies are unlikely to be able to meet the site requirements and they should ‘continue their very important role in flu vaccination, particularly of the new 50 to 64-year-old cohort’.

Community pharmacies can also get involved with the vaccination programme by collaborating with their local Primary Care Network to support maximum vaccine uptake via the GP Enhanced Service or with vaccination centres.

Community pharmacy’s involvement in delivering the programme is not expected to start until late December or early January, NHSE&I has said.

A version of this story first appeared in our sister publication, Pulse.