Why the vaccine sprint may soon turn into a marathon



The rollout of the Covid-19 vaccines has, so far, been a notable success story in what has been an extremely difficult 12 months. But as we look to the summer and the vaccination of younger working-age adults as well as the possibility of booster jabs from the autumn, there may need to be a rethink around the centralised NHS-only delivery model, argues Scott Erwin.

In our fight against Covid-19, the UK has achieved an amazing feat of vaccinating all the top four priority groups and is even on track to have the top nine groups done by the end of March.

Everyone involved in the UK’s vaccine campaign deserves huge credit for the pace, professionalism and precision with which jabs are being administered.

From creating mass vaccination hubs in stadiums, conference centres, town halls, museums and empty shops, through to using hospital hubs and GP practices to rollout this programme, no one can deny it has been an inconceivable success.

The number of staff involved in this rollout is also incomprehensible, the telephone staff calling and booking patients in, the car park marshals, the cleaners, the check-in staff, the nurses, the doctors, the security and the admin staff. Coordinating and scheduling the right combination of staff to be on any given shift must be a huge headache for the admin teams, throw in the added supply chain variability and things get even more complicated.

This whole programme has been built in response to an emergency situation, pulling NHS staff from their usual roles and drafting in thousands of volunteers to help manage the patients and handle the more ancillary roles.

Threat of new variants

This programme has been a success, with vaccines being administered at a rapid rate, but we have recently seen a spanner in the works: the virus mutations. It was only recently at PMQs that prime minister Boris Johnson said, “I think we’re going to have to get used to the idea of vaccinating, and then re-vaccinating in the autumn, as we come to face these new variants,” and this statement casts the vaccination rollout in a different light.

So how can the government look to create a more sustainable programme and how will we eventually see the whole of the workforce vaccinated? Vaccinating all of the age groups of our population is important, not only to stop the spread, but also to get workers back to offices and into workplaces. Opening up our economy will see wider effects, such as getting footfall back on our high streets and the general public once again using vital infrastructure such as our bus and rail networks.

Sprint or marathon?

If Covid vaccination is less a one-off sprint and more a biannual marathon, the current model will need some tweaking. First, the UK should double down on using GP clinics and pharmacies. As lockdown eases the temporary mass sites will be needed for their original uses, while GP surgeries and pharmacies are already part of the business-as-usual vaccination infrastructure in the country.

Second, the NHS will have to take the vaccine to the people to reach those that are hesitant or unlikely to go to their GP clinic for one, much less multiple, jabs.

The irony of the current model is that the vaccination programme will eat itself. As lockdown eases non-Covid clinical duties will resume, and the economy reopens, up to 50% of the staff will return to normal duties. We saw this happen in June during the first escape from lockdown where charities – almost overnight – saw volunteers numbers halve.

So what can be done to ensure this rollout is sustainable? A combination of using the existing vaccine infrastructure alongside another more dynamic mobile model is a good solution.

Taking it mobile

Moving forward to May and June, when the most vulnerable groups will have been vaccinated, we can begin to think about how the economy will open up and when workers will be able to start thinking about going back to the office or workplace. As we move through the tiers of vulnerability to the younger and healthier, we will see a need for the dynamics of the vaccine programme to change. What was such a sought-after appointment for the vulnerable won’t be so important for the young and we will, in effect, see a reverse system where the vaccine will need to be brought to the masses.

With many offices looking to get their workers back and everyone hoping to return to some sort of normality by the summer, rolling mobile vaccinations out to other corporations and workplaces may well be a good starting point. Not only does it reduce any effort needed by the patient, but it also encourages all workers to follow the lead of being vaccinated.

The vaccine is an asset to every workforce and is the key that will unlock society. Uneven appetite for take-up across a workforce could cause potential issues and some gentle coercion on uptake could be needed. To protect the vulnerable and reduce spread of this terrible disease companies will need to be proactive in trying to gain a high uptake, even in the younger population. In some sectors, such as health, care and other high-risk industries, we will most likely see the introduction of mandatory vaccination in all new recruits.

The pandemic has been a remarkably traumatic event for many workforces and has really highlighted the need for companies to put not only their employee’s physical health, but also their mental health at the forefront of their wellbeing package. A workplace vaccine programme not only protects the workforce but also offers a very real peace of mind for each and every member of the team.

Jabs at work could be something that is bought in by the companies themselves and could even be seen as a perk. Corporations will want to play their part and offering a covid vaccination as part of their employee benefits will be seen by many as putting their team’s health and wellbeing at the forefront of priorities.

Jabs at work could be something that is bought in by the companies themselves and could even be seen as a perk. Corporations will want to play their part and offering a covid vaccination as part of their employee benefits will be seen by many as putting their team’s health and wellbeing at the forefront of priorities.

There are of course, some sensitivities around the idea of companies having access to the supply of the vaccine. However, once we see the majority of the vulnerable vaccinated and other countries have been given the chance to catch up, we will likely see supply increase which will enable companies to access their own vaccines.

The dynamics of a mobile programme

But with volunteers going back to their own day jobs and NHS staff being moved back to their normal roles how will this mobile scenario work? Essentially being mobile, staffing can be pulled from a flexible ‘agency’ style bank model which hints to a future of mobilising key workers as and when demand fluctuates. This model not only paves the way for significant reductions in staffing costs but also offers employees flexible working patterns and a better work/life balance.

This mobile vaccination model, alongside static GP practices and pharmacies, could be the key to how we deal with Covid-19 long term. As we see mutations arise or case numbers fluctuate, pop-up teams can be deployed to localised areas and workplaces, stamping out any significant increase.

As we move through 2021 and scientists discover more about this virus, our efforts to reduce spread and new variants will become more coordinated. A targeted mobile deployment of vaccinators who will visit specific locations for a few weeks, before moving along to another location could be the key to keeping this deadly virus at bay. This mobile roll-out will need a mobile workforce to carry it out and a dynamic staffing model will ensure a swift and timely result.

With the population being vaccinated at such a pace and plans in place to ensure workplace jabs and revaccination can be achieved, we can all look to the summer with a cautious positivity and hope some sort of normal life can soon resume.


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