COVID-19 vaccine FAQs

Produced by the optical sector bodies

Patient having an eye test

Vaccination update

Many of you have been in touch to ask about the COVID-19 vaccination programme. All UK representative bodies are working together and will keep the sector up to date with developments. At this stage, it is important to note the following:

All optical practice staff are a priority group for COVID-19 vaccination

All UK governments are following JCVI guidance on prioritisation for the COVID-19 vaccination. It means all practice staff with patient-facing roles will be offered a vaccination along with all frontline healthcare workers, and it applies equally to NHS and non-NHS funded care.

Don’t worry if you have not yet heard from the NHS about vaccinations 

The MHRA approved the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine on 2 December. Because of the vaccine’s complex storage requirements, the vaccination programme was unable to move at pace. The Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine was only approved on 30 December and because it is easier to store and distribute we expect the programme to speed up over the next few weeks. The Moderna vaccine was also approved for use on 8 January and can be stored at -20C. However, it may take a little time for stocks of this vaccine to arrive in the UK. 

Expect some variation

The NHS will deliver the programme slightly differently across the UK, but you remain in a priority group in each UK country:

  • England will use hospital hubs to vaccinate frontline healthcare workers. Read more. In some areas CCGs and Primary Care Networks (PCNs) may also offer vaccination to primary care staff. We are aware that this has already happened in some areas where patients have not attended for their Pfizer/BioNtech vaccine therefore GPs have offered these to optical staff   
  • Northern Ireland will also use hospitals for primary eye care staff. Read more
  • Scotland will be organising vaccinations through NHS Boards. They have already started the rollout. You should be contacted directly about the programme in due course, if you haven’t already. Read more
  • Wales is currently updating primary eye care via Optometry Wales (OW), so please keep up to date with communications from them.

The COVID-19 vaccination programme is the most extensive vaccination programme the UK has ever performed. So, there are likely to be some unforeseen operational issues. You might notice variation at a local level, for example, with higher risk groups within your practice team prioritised in the event of temporary supply or capacity issues.

You might also hear colleagues near you have already been invited to have the vaccination and offered appointments at the last minute. This is more likely to be the case where the Pfizer vaccine is used as it needs to be used within an hour of being prepared for administration, because storage requirements mean that vaccination centres will want to ensure they maximise capacity on any given day and vaccine is not wasted.

As the weeks go on, we expect a more stable operating model to emerge. Meanwhile, please keep up to date with sector news and stay in touch with your LOC/ROC about local initiatives.

Do what you can to help practice teams prepare

It is helpful to consider how you might support informed decision making so that when colleagues are invited to have the COVID-19 vaccination, they are ready to act. Here are links to official guidance:

Non-NHS providers

The COVID-19 green book clarifies that frontline healthcare staff are in the same priority group for vaccination independently of how people pay for their care. If you do not provide NHS care but deliver face-to-face patient care, you should expect the local vaccination programme to contact you. Meanwhile, we recommend you contact your representative body to ensure that they can send you relevant vaccination information that might be shared with NHS contract holders.

AOP members can email [email protected].