Practice nurses and GPs will play a key role when it comes to helping patients decide to accept the Covid vaccine, England’s chief medical officers have signalled.
Speaking at a joint parliamentary committee hearing on lessons learned from the pandemic, England CMO Professor Chris Whitty said ‘lots’ of people who are ‘waiting to see’ whether they will accept an offer of the new Covid vaccine are being ‘entirely reasonable’.
He said: ‘These are new vaccines and with the right information, they will think “yes actually, this feels right to me”.
‘The efficacy data are really clear and now we need to be really clear about any issues around side effects and so on so that people feel they can make a balanced and reasonable decision.’
Deputy CMO Dr Jenny Harries added that practice nurses and GPs will be key to local messaging around the Covid vaccine.
She told MPs: ‘Once we’ve got the national messaging clear and correct, what’s really important is who is giving that message locally as well.
‘Obviously we work with directors of public health to ensure that there is a consistent message but for the person in their home [or] in the street, [with] primary care – their GP, but particularly actually the practice nurse – still working with them to ensure they understand as well.’
Healthcare staff themselves taking up the vaccine is also a ‘very clear message to the public’, Dr Harries said.
Professor Whitty added that GPs are also the ‘frontline’ for making sure the messaging reaches different ethnic groups and communities in their area.
He said: ‘The local directors of public health, local health leaders, GPs, nurses are in the best position because they will often know what it is that people in their area – groups that come to them from different communities – what it is that really worries them.’
The Government must be ‘open’ with people about side effects, the CMOs added.
It comes as a new study has revealed that only 65% of UK patients would be willing to get a Covid vaccine next year.
Meanwhile, Professor Whitty also told the Science and Technology and Health and Social Care Committees that he expects ‘by the middle of the year probably to have a portfolio of three or four vaccines we can actually use’.
However, he added that he is ‘not confident’ that herd immunity is definitely possible as it remains unclear whether the vaccine prevents transmission or only the individual vaccinated.
And although it remains a ‘science-informed political decision’, Professor Whitty told MPs the vaccine rollout will not give enough protection to relax restrictions for the next three months.
He said: ‘I want to be very clear, for the next three months we will not have sufficient protection – we are going through the most difficult time for respiratory infections and for the NHS – so the idea we can suddenly stop now because the vaccine is here would be really premature.
‘It would be like somebody giving up a marathon race at mile 16, it would be absolutely the wrong thing to do.’
He added that if it transpires that the vaccine does not prevent transmission, social distancing measures would be unlikely to be relaxed until all JCVI priority groups had been vaccinated.
The MHRA approved the Covid vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech last week (2 December) after final-stage trials had shown it was effective and ‘well tolerated across all populations’ with ‘no serious safety concerns observed’.