GPs have been told they can vaccinate under-70s to avoid wastage of the Covid-19 vaccine for the first time in new guidance.
It was announced on Monday that those aged over 70 and clinically extremely vulnerable people would start to be offered vaccines in areas where the “majority” of those in the older age category – people over the age of 80 – and higher up the priority list had already received their first jab.
This covers the first four “cohorts” of the government’s priority groups for vaccinations. But the new guidance, seen by HuffPost UK and issued to doctors on Tuesday, reveals that those outside of the top four groups could be vaccinated if the alternative is a dose going to waste.
In the email sent to frontline NHS staff, those involved in the vaccination programme have been told “vaccine should not be wasted”.
The guidance states: “If there is vaccine supply and deployment capacity, but a degree of uncertainty on whether clinics will be full, further invitations can be made to individuals from the next eligible cohort (across cohorts 1-4) in order to utilise available supply.
“Vaccination beyond the current cohorts (1-4) can be offered if there is a risk that current vaccine stock will become unviable if not used.”
The email also states that people waiting for their first dose should be prioritised, with those awaiting their second dose to be scheduled in for their final jab twelve weeks after their first in line with the government’s guidance.
While some vaccines, such as the Oxford-AstraZeneca jab, can be stored at normal fridge temperatures for a relatively long period of time, the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine must be stored at extremely cold temperatures in specialist fridges and will quickly become unviable for use if not used quickly.
The fifth cohort to be prioritised for the vaccine is those aged 65 and over, followed by all individuals aged between 16 and 64 with underlying health conditions which put them at higher risk of serious disease and mortality in sixth place.
Those aged 60 and over are in seventh place in the priority list, 55s and over in eighth and over 50s in ninth on the priority list.
The guidance issued on Tuesday also instructs GPs to do “as much as you can” to reach communities at highest risk of falling seriously ill with Covid-19, factoring in deprivation and ethnicity.
The email continues: “This increased flexibility offers an opportunity to tackle inequity and begin reaching health inclusion groups.
“Communities with greater levels of vaccine hesitancy or other challenges around engagement and uptake will take longer to reach, so all local areas should ensure engagement is either underway or begins now.”
HuffPost UK has contacted NHS England and the British Medical Association (BMA) for comment.
This article originally appeared on HuffPost UK and has been updated.