Optical bodies share guidance on COVID-19 vaccination roll-out

Optical associations have shared updates on the progress of the COVID-19 vaccination plan for patient-facing practice staff

COVID-19 vaccine
The roll-out of the COVID-19 vaccine is underway, in what has been described as “the biggest vaccination programme in British history,” with patient-facing practice staff confirmed as a priority group to receive the vaccine.

Guidance on the vaccination process, shared by NHS England, has stated that by mid-January, NHS Trusts will establish ‘hospital hubs’ and will be the default provider of COVID-19 vaccinations for all healthcare and social care workers.

This includes frontline staff in primary care settings, including practice staff with patient-facing roles. This applies equally to NHS and non-NHS funded care.

In a message to members, AOP chief executive, Henrietta Alderman, offered reassurance that the association “is working hard behind the scenes to find a way through these challenging times.”

In an update for members, the AOP confirmed that employed staff do not need to take any further action. Meanwhile, employers are advised to read Appendix 1 section 5: ‘HR, Staff Engagement and Communications,’ of the NHS England guidance, to do what they can to support staff with questions and help to co-ordinate efforts where they are contacted to do so.

The AOP also confirmed that optometrists who have expressed an interest in helping out with the national vaccination programme will be covered by their insurance, although the membership body said it expects NHS insurance would cover it in the first instance.

Vaccinations for locum and non-NHS provider practices

Optical bodies identified a gap in information for locum optometrists regarding accessing the COVID-19 vaccination, with the AOP and Local Optical Committee Support Unit (LOCSU) working on potential solutions to address this.

Based on this, LOCSU have created a portal through which locum optometrists, and non-NHS providing practices can keep informed, and outlining the ways they can ensure they are included on the vaccination lists.

While Local Optical Committees (LOCs) are working locally to create lists of staff employed in GOS practices, non-NHS providing practices and locum optometrists can also contact their local LOC to be added.

Locum optometrists may also be included on a practice list, or may be able to register directly with their clinical commissioning group (CCG) or primary care network (PCN). LOCSU suggested that in these cases, locum optometrists should get in touch with a practice they work with, or a contact in the CCG or PCN to confirm whether this is the case.Finally, locums or non-NHS practices to whom those options don’t apply, are able to complete a form, available through the information portal, to be included on the vaccination list.

The progress of the vaccination roll-out

To provide additional information and reassurance on the process, optical bodies have produced answers to a series of frequently asked questions.

The optical bodies advised that, being such an extensive vaccination programme, some operational issues can be expected to begin with.

“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,” the associations shared.

The pace of the roll-out of vaccinations has also been variable as new vaccines have been approved and transported to the UK. Most recently, the Moderna vaccine was approved for use on 8 January.

As the roll-out continues, it is expected that a more stable operating model will be established.

In the meantime, the optical bodies advised members to keep up to date with sector news, and to keep in touch with LOCs and Regional Optical Committees (ROC) about local initiatives.

The AOP has created a range of guidance and resources to support members, including a vaccine eligibility letter that members can use to evidence that workers involved in direct patient care, including optometrists, fall into priority group two. An editable letter template to evidence key worker status has also been created for members.

In addition, the AOP’s employment experts have compiled guidance on whether employers can reasonably instruct employees to have the vaccine, and what factors should be taken into consideration.

Vaccine roll-out across the devolved nations

While NHS England has outlined its plans for the roll-out of vaccinations, Ms Alderman said “parallel arrangements are being made in other parts of the UK and communicated through the national optometry bodies.”

Optometric practices are eligible for priority access to the vaccine across the country but approaches to delivery may differ regionally. OT spoke with representatives from optical groups across the devolved nations to find out more.


In Wales, all health boards have been told to prioritise the profession, including optometrists and practice staff. Welcoming this news, Sali Davis, CEO of Optometry Wales, commented: “This is, in fact, part of a systematic change to the way the profession is being regarded in Wales.”

In the future, the body expects to see a greater integration and parity of treatment with primary care colleagues in dentistry, general medical services and pharmacy.

Ms Davis suggested that filtering the approach down to local decision making in health boards could pose a potential challenge.

“Some health boards are, and have been, more agile than others,” Ms Davis explained. “The positives are that each health board now has its own optometric adviser who attends all ROC meetings, so engagement and access is good.”


A letter from the Scottish Government on 6 January provided an update on the progress of the vaccine roll-out, which has already started, confirming that independent contractors would be contacted by their local NHS Board, and all practice staff would be offered a vaccination.

Speaking to OT, deputy chair of Optometry Scotland, Julie Mosgrove, also suggested that the process may vary slightly by health board: “All optometric practices are eligible for priority access, but with varying numbers of vaccine available, the criteria in each health board is different for priority within the optometry practice.

“Some are all staff, and some are vulnerable groups, such as practice staff over the age of 65,” Ms Mosgrove explained.

Northern Ireland 

In Northern Ireland, community optometry staff have been confirmed as a designated healthcare worker group that can receive the COVID-19 vaccine.

In an announcement on 11 January, Raymond Curran, assistant director of integrated care and head of ophthalmic services at the Health and Social Care Board (HSC Board), confirmed that appointments with HSC Trusts for the vaccination of community optometry staff are available to book online.

To access appointments, the HSC Board advised contractors to facilitate staff to book online through a secure link. The letter also confirmed that they may include locums who offer services to the practice. 

Quick links

More information about the COVID-19 vaccine roll-out can be found here:

OT is exploring the questions optometrists and practice teams may have around the COVID-19 vaccine. If you have a question that you would like us to look into, please get in touch.

OT endeavours to keep the most up-to-date news on our website and this information was correct when published. However, the situation regarding coronavirus (COVID-19) is rapidly evolving.