Cutty Sark Christmas tree 2020
South-east London is gearing up for a Covid Christmas

Stocks of coronavirus vaccine should reach Queen Elizabeth and Lewisham hospitals by Christmas, south-east London’s health service said earlier this week.

The first people in the world were given the Pfizer/Biontech vaccine on Tuesday morning when the UK became the first country to start issuing the jab; the first patient to receive the treatment in south-east London was at Guy’s Hospital in Southwark at 8am.

Only six hospitals in London have been given stocks of the jab, which has to be used within three-and-a-half days after being taken out of storage.

Queen Elizabeth in Woolwich and its sister hospital in Lewisham should follow by Christmas, Angela Bhan, who is leading NHS South East London Clinical Commissioning Group’s response to the pandemic, told Greenwich Council’s health and wellbeing board on Wednesday morning.

Care home residents and staff and the over-80s are being prioritised, but other people may also start to get the vaccine by Christmas, Bhan said.

The group covers Greenwich, Lewisham, Southwark, Lambeth, Bromley and Bexley boroughs, which have three hospitals currently giving out the vaccine – Guy’s, King’s College Hospital in Camberwell and Princess Royal University Hospital at Farnborough. The three hospitals are calling in staff from care homes across the six boroughs and giving vaccines to over-80s coming in for other treatments.

With a national target of 75% of the adult population to be vaccinated, that means one million people across the boroughs are due to get two doses each.

“I don’t think we will finish the first groups before Christmas,” Bhan said. (See from 38:30.) “We might do, but I think it’s highly unlikely.”

The three hospitals chosen to begin vaccinations were chosen because of their ability to handle the procedure, Bhan added, but Queen Elizabeth and Lewisham will soon get supplies, along with Queen Mary’s in Sidcup and St Thomas’ in Lambeth.

“We cannot easily move the vaccine around as it is rather delicate,” she said, referring to it needing to be stored at minus 75C. “We are hoping these other sites will get the vaccine in the not-too-distant future, it won’t be in the next week or so but it might be in the week before Christmas.”

In addition, each of the six boroughs have chosen a network of GP surgeries that will be able to start issuing vaccines from Tuesday – they will start calling patients over 80 to ask them to come in for their jabs – with other surgeries following. All of Greenwich’s primary care networks had expressed interest in offering the vaccine, Bhan said.

Each borough has identified and secured a mass vaccination centre for the new year, while a small number of pharmacies – those able to open from 8am to 8pm, seven days a week – will also be selected.

Roving services will take vaccines to care homes, but Bhan said that housebound patients may need a vaccine that does not have such strict storage conditions. And the need to use the vaccine within three-and-a-half days of it being taken out of storage could see other groups get jabs this week to ensure it does not go to waste, she added.

The meeting heard that 83 people were in hospital with Covid-19 across Queen Elizabeth and Lewisham hospitals, but some of those were patients transferred from hospitals in north Kent to relieve pressure on the NHS there.

Lewisham Hospital and Christmas tree
Lewisham and Queen Elizabeth hospitals are dealing with Covid-19 patients from Kent

“We haven’t had to suspend any elective surgery or outpatients’ appointments,” Val Davison of Lewisham and Greenwich NHS Trust said.

“The hospitals are very much open for business – they are safe and there are strict protocols in place.”

Andy Trotter, the chair of Oxleas NHS Trust, which runs mental health services, said the demands on community health workers meant he had “never seen them quite so stressed”.

Oxleas and its neighbouring metal healh trust, South London and Maudsley, were using private beds to help meet capacity, he added.

While Tier 3 restrictions are looking likely for London following a rise in cases, Greenwich Council leader Danny Thorpe said boroughs were “doing everything we can” to avoid that fate.

“Aside from the economic consequences, it would hae a huge consequence on our ability to even meet people outside – and he ongoing mental health impact of isolation and not seeing people is huge at this point in time.”

As for Christmas – and the temporary easing of restrictions – he said: “Going into that we have to make sure rates are as low as possible.”

In the seven days to 5 December, Greenwich had 199.3 coronavirus cases per 100,000 people. Lewisham had 127.2, Bexley had 261.4. The rate across London is 191.2, according to Public Health England.

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