Although we’re not directly involved in developing or regulating the use of vaccines, we understand that doctors and their patients will likely have questions about the rollout of new coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccines, and how this will impact them.
We answer some of those frequently asked questions below.
My patients are asking when they can be vaccinated against COVID-19, what can I tell them?
The(MHRA) is the independent regulator responsible for making sure medicines, devices and vaccines work and are safe for use. For a vaccine to be approved for use in the UK, the MHRA has said that robust standards of quality, safety, and effectiveness must be met.
As each vaccine is approved, it will be rolled out in phases.
The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) published updated advice on 31 December on the groups who should be prioritised for vaccination. This states that residents in care homes, care home workers, those aged 80 years and over, and health and social care workers will be the first to receive the vaccine.
As a doctor, should I be vaccinated against COVID-19?
In Good medical practice we say at paragraph 29 that doctors should be immunised against common serious communicable diseases, unless this is contraindicated.
While there is no absolute duty to be vaccinated against any particular disease, there is a potential risk of inadvertently spreading coronavirus to vulnerable patients. This weighs in favour of doctors being vaccinated unless there are good reasons why it isn’t appropriate in your individual circumstances.
We recognise that you may need to take account of any underlying health conditions. In some cases, there may be other appropriate options for managing any risk to patients and colleagues.
If you have good reason not to be vaccinated, you need to be confident that there are measures in place where you work to manage any risk of transmission to patients. You will need to take appropriate steps to reduce risks and prioritise patient safety.
What information is available about the safety of the vaccine?
For a vaccine to be approved for use in the UK, the MHRA has said that robust standards of quality, safety, and effectiveness must be met.
NHS England publishes National Protocols for each vaccine as they are approved and become available. Protocols contain the safety information relevant to that vaccine. Information has also been published by Public Health Wales, Public Health Scotland and Public health Northern Ireland.
This information will help doctors to give clear, accurate and up-to-date information to their patients so they can make informed decisions about vaccination. Our Decision making and consent guidance will support you to have these conversations with patients.
How will doctors seek patient consent for the vaccine?
Doctors must be satisfied they have consent or other valid authority before they provide treatment to patients (paragraph 17 in Good medical practice). Our expectations are the same for doctors before they administer vaccines.
As part of this process, registered healthcare professionals, including doctors, nurses, pharmacists and many other professionals, will be responsible for speaking with patients to find out about allergies, their medical history and any contraindications.
The National Protocols for the approved vaccines include information on obtaining patient consent. Further information and resources and, in some cases template consent forms can also be found at NHS England, Public Health Wales, Public Health Scotland, and Public health Northern Ireland.
In all cases, doctors should familiarise themselves with our Decision making and consent guidance, in particular the seven principles and paragraphs 21-26 on discussing benefits and harms and uncertainties with their patients.
For adult patients who lack capacity, paragraphs 87-93 of our Decision making and consent guidance explains the ethical basis and process for treatment decisions. It also covers the differences that apply in Scotland.