Exclusive: NHS vaccinators offering Covid jabs to friends and family under 70

Bill Gardner
·6-min read
 A nurse prepares a dose of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine against the new coronavirus to be injected at the Andras Josa Teaching Hospital in Nyiregyhaza, Hungary, Sunday, Jan. 24, 2021. (Attila Balazs/MTI via AP) - Attila Balazs
A nurse prepares a dose of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine against the new coronavirus to be injected at the Andras Josa Teaching Hospital in Nyiregyhaza, Hungary, Sunday, Jan. 24, 2021. (Attila Balazs/MTI via AP) - Attila Balazs
Coronavirus Article Bar with counter
Coronavirus Article Bar with counter

NHS vaccine centres are offering Covid jabs to friends and family aged under 70 in breach of national policy, The Telegraph can disclose.

Senior NHS sources threatened to take disciplinary action against hospitals and GPs across the country offering leftover jabs to relatives and friends of staff despite them being outside the top four priority cohorts.

Health bosses have insisted that drawing up a "friends and family list" helps avoid waste by ensuring that centres never throw away any Pfizer vaccine, which comes in boxes of 975 doses and can only be stored for five days once thawed.

However, ministers are understood to be determined that younger people with a connection to NHS staff should not be allowed to "jump the queue" over the vulnerable and elderly.

A Whitehall source said vaccine centres must do more to create a "back-up list" of patients and staff within the top four cohorts who can receive jabs at short notice.

It came as the Government announced a new record-high number of 491,970 first doses administered in just 24 hours, taking the total number who have received a first dose to 6.35 million.

Latest UK vaccines embed
Latest UK vaccines embed

The Government will also announce that it will pay community vaccine champions to help persuade their peers in minority ethnic groups to take up the offer of a jab.

Nadhim Zahawi, the vaccines minister, will write to black and minority ethnic MPs to express his concern about low take-up of the vaccine among certain groups and encourage them to promote the community champions scheme.

Meanwhile, a group representing ex-Gurkhas complained that they had been overlooked for vaccinations by the NHS despite their local pharmacy announcing hundreds of doses were apparently going spare.

It came as ministers launched an urgent review after Milly Dowler's killer, Levi Bellfield, was among high-security prisoners told they would be invited for vaccines in the coming weeks.

NHS bosses are understood to be concerned at the number of vaccination sites giving away leftover jabs to friends and family in defiance of the Government's priority list.

Friends and family of NHS staff aged under 70 are understood to have been invited by vaccination centres in parts of Kent, Essex, Buckinghamshire and south London to avoid wasting jabs. One source alleged that staff working at an NHS hub in Liverpool had been allowed to vaccinate relatives and friends aged as young as 30.

Nottingham University Hospital NHS Trust is among a number of sites operating a "friends and family list" allowing spare doses to be given to relatives and friends of NHS staff.

Health workers are understood to have invited relatives and friends in their 50s to come forward for spare jabs last week. A spokesman for the hospital admitted that it operated a friends and family scheme but insisted jabs had only been offered to those over 80.

"If people outside those groups have been invited, then we will have to investigate that," a source said.

Health workers at Warrington Hospital in Cheshire have been reportedly allowed to nominate people to receive leftover vaccine as long as they belong to any of the Government's nine priority groups, which include everyone over 50 or clinically vulnerable.

A spokesman for the hospital said the "short notice back-up scheme" had not vaccinated anyone outside the top four groups.

South Trafford Primary Care Network in Hale, Greater Manchester, has admitted offering vaccines to people in their 40s to prevent doses going to waste. A spokesman said GPs were left with no choice because practices who ran out of vulnerable patients were not permitted to transfer spare vaccine to others in their network.

Figures released this week by the NHS show that 28 of the 41 health service residence areas have given more first doses to people aged under 80 than over 80, although the majority are thought to have been given to front line healthcare workers and over-70s.

According to official guidance issued to GPs in January, doses are allowed to be given to those outside priority cohorts in "exceptional circumstances" and when doctors can demonstrate "that it is clinically appropriate and where resources would otherwise have been wasted".

A senior NHS source said the practice of vaccinating family and friends aged under 70 was against national guidelines and would result in disciplinary action. "If friends and family are being vaccinated outside the top four groups, we will be disciplining them and doing what we can to stop that happening. It's definitely outside of our policy," the source said.

Charlotte Nichols, the MP for Warrington North, defended the actions of Warrington Hospital, telling the i newspaper: "Friends and family of NHS staff may be at additional risk because of their contact with those NHS staff.

"If these vaccination doses are otherwise going to waste, and provided therefore no one higher on the JCVI [joint committee on vaccination and immunisation] priority list is being denied their dose as a result, then it is right in my view that who these doses are distributed to is at the hospital's discretion."

How many people in the UK have received their first doses of the Covid-19 vaccine?
How many people in the UK have received their first doses of the Covid-19 vaccine?

Speaking at a Downing Street press conference earlier this month, Professor Chris Whitty, the chief medical officer, said that in some cases health workers had taken understandable steps to "eke out" the maximum number of vaccinations.

He said: "If you look at the proportion of the vaccines that have been used, which are for people that are in care homes and people over 80, it is the overwhelming majority. But at the same time, GPs, rightly, have tried to make sure that they eke every vaccine out that they can.

"And there have been some perfectly sensible decisions made by individual GPs, and not just GPs – also elsewhere – where it looks as if, particularly with the Pfizer vaccine where there is an issue about shelf-life once something's been unfrozen, to make sure that, actually, it's possible to maximise the people who are vaccinated."

An NHS spokesman said: "The NHS is prioritising people most at-risk of Covid-19, in line with the guidance set by the JCVI, with the aim of offering everyone in these groups a vaccination by the middle of February.

"Local vaccination sites should also be managing their appointment lists to ensure all appointments are filled and so they have a back-up list of patients and staff, in the top four cohorts, who can receive the vaccine at short notice."