England's NHS staff are no longer a top priority for receiving the coronavirus vaccine, after a drastic discourse regarding who should be getting it first.
The new immunisation strategy is likely to disappoint and worry thousands of frontline staff – and comes amid urgent warnings from NHS chiefs that hospitals could be "overwhelmed" in January by a third wave of Covid-19 caused by mingling over Christmas, reports The Guardian.
Chris Hopson, the chief executive of NHS Providers, said, "If we get a prolonged cold snap in January the NHS risks being overwhelmed. The Covid-19 restrictions should remain appropriately tough.
"Trust leaders are worried about the impact of looser regulations over Christmas."
Frontline personnel were due to have the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine when the NHS starts its rollout, which is expected to be next Tuesday after the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) of England approved it on Wednesday.
However, hospitals will instead begin by immunising care home staff, and hospital inpatients and outpatients aged over 80.
The new UK-wide guidance on priority groups was issued by the joint committee on vaccination and immunisation (JCVI) amid uncertainty over when the rest of the 5m-strong initial batch of doses that ministers ordered will reach the UK.
NHS personnel will be able to take the vaccine into care homes to immunise residents later this month if, as expected, the MHRA agrees that the batches of 975 doses it comes in can be subdivided and the stability and safety of the drug be maintained.
Dr Chaand Nagpaul, the leader of the British Medical Association, said it backed care home residents getting the jab first. However, that means NHS staff will be left at higher risk of getting infected and potentially dying, he added.
"Doctors and other healthcare staff will recognise the need to vaccinate care home residents and older patients first, but will likely be frustrated at the government's inconsistent messaging changing from yesterday to today."
The change in priorities came as NHS Providers, which represents health service trusts in England, warned hospitals would struggle to maintain normal care in January if a fresh spike in infections after Christmas leads to beds again filling up with Covid patients, just as they are trying to manage their winter crisis.