Practices have been told to prepare themselves for the transport of coronavirus vaccines in a few days.
The vaccination sites must be ready to give 975 doses of the vaccine to priority patients within three and a half days of delivery on December 14.
However, it will be a complicated process, as all vital vaccines must be stored below -70C.
The shots are considered essential to restoring the UK to business as usual and will be distributed at Covid-19 vaccination centers.
Hospitals are expected to get deliveries even faster, and it is believed that some vaccinations will be distributed by next Tuesday.
In a letter sent across primary care networks in England, NHS England and NHS Improvement warned that the “scale and complexity” of the immunization program would make it “one of the biggest challenges the NHS has ever faced “.
It was signed by Dr Nikita Kanani, medical director of primary care at NHS England and NHS Improvement, and Ed Waller, director of primary care at the same organizations.
“It is vital that we start activating local vaccination services to allow priority patient cohorts to begin accessing the vaccine,” he said.
The vaccine is usually stored at -70C and will remain stable at refrigerator temperatures between 2C-8C for only a limited time – so speed is essential.
Each of the Pfizer / BioNTech vaccine kits contains 975 doses, which has posed a logistical problem as to how they can be broken up and distributed to other key websites such as care homes.
The first recipients of the vaccine at the centers will be those aged 80 and over, provided their other “clinical or otherwise” risk factors have been considered.
NHS England and NHS Improvement said the number of vaccination sites in each clinical commissioning group (CCG) area will vary according to the number of residents it has over the age of 80.
CCGs were asked to consider inequalities and deprivation – some of the biggest Covid-19 risk factors – when selecting the sites for their vaccination centers.
Each center will also be provided with the “IT equipment necessary to carry out the program and refrigerator”, the letter said.
He added: “We will write to sites identified as part of wave 1 on Monday, setting out full details of vaccine delivery dates, consignments and other equipment to the site, and the process for ensuring readiness before vaccines are delivered.”
He said staff at the vaccination sites would receive training, and be “fully supported to move within the timetable”.
Staff at the first sites open are expected to have login details for the IT system set up to deliver the vaccination program “as soon as possible”.
CCGs have been told they must “offer all possible assistance” to the vaccine sites as the program begins, including assisting them with logistics and establishing clinical waste arrangements.
They were also warned that while GPs must provide emergency care even when the vaccine is provided, the vaccination program must be their top priority.
He urged all primary care providers to work together to maximize utilization and reduce waste.
The letter added that funding of £ 150 million is available to ensure GPs have the staff and resources to meet their normal obligations and deliver the vaccine program.
He concluded: “This is a very exciting moment for general practice and you who will play a key role in this important program.”
Hospital hubs will be the first locations in England to begin giving injections, however, with vaccination set to begin from Tuesday, according to NHS Provider chief executive Chris Hopson.
Mr Hopson told BBC Breakfast: “We report in hospitals how many people over 80 we have, either currently receiving treatment inside the hospital or people coming in for outpatient appointments. “
NHS England said a list of hospitals to start providing the injection will be issues over the weekend.
Meanwhile, the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) said it had approved a solution to split vaccine kits and get it into care homes.
Installers – a mix of companies licensed to assemble kits and NHS hospitals with appropriate facilities – divide the vaccines into smaller batches in special cold rooms between 2C and 8C.
The process is extremely time-sensitive, with assemblers having just 12 hours to defrost the vials, repackage the medicines, label and distribute them to the mobile teams who deliver to care homes.
Although elderly care home residents are the highest priority, they will not be the first in the queue as manufacturers have to test and validate the assembly process and ensure that all staff are thoroughly trained.
The MHRA said: “We have put in place arrangements to support the safe and speedy delivery of the vaccine to priority groups.
“Regulatory approvals required to proceed with package sharing have been put in place.
“We are working with the NHS and their assemblers to help support them to provide them with the processes and training they need to meet our conditions.”
Dr June Raine, chief executive of the MHRA, told the BBC on Friday that she estimated the vaccine would start to be distributed to care homes “within the next two weeks”.