Dentists to deliver jabs, but won’t be covered by ‘most comprehensive flu jab programme in history’
23 October 2020
The British Dental Association (BDA) is seeking urgent clarification on why, when access to dental services are still so limited, dentists and dental teams remain excluded from coverage in the widest-reaching flu vaccination programme on record.
The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) has just authorised use of millions of doses of the vaccine Flublok, now set to be imported from the US to address chronic shortages aggravated by high demand during the COVID-19 pandemic. The BDA understands that while dentists in Yorkshire and Humberside, London, East of England and the Midlands, are already set to form part of the workforce delivering the vaccination programme, they will remain ineligible for the jabs themselves.
The Department of Health estimates the vaccine programme will reach 30 million people and is currently offered free to most healthcare workers in England. Dentists and their teams are at high risk given their proximity to patients, and staff in Northern Ireland and Scotland are already eligible to access the vaccine free of charge. Unprecedented demand for the vaccine has left dentists unable to secure access to the jab via commercial suppliers.
Dentists in England resumed face to face care on 8 June and are continuing to operate at a fraction of their pre-pandemic capacity. Dentists’ leaders have warned flu season will inevitably add to disruption unless this approach is reconsidered. Over 14 million NHS dental appointments were delayed between lockdown and September.
Last month a letter sent in error to all NHS dentists strongly encouraged participation in the scheme. The message, addressed to ‘All NHS frontline workers', acknowledged that "flu can have serious and even fatal consequences, especially for our most vulnerable patients, such as young children, pregnant women and the elderly. Therefore, vaccination of healthcare workers is a critical part of the NHS' flu prevention strategy." The BDA advocates universal access for all dentists and dental team members.
The BDA remains deeply concerned the despite clear recommendations from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) to give healthcare workers priority access to any future COVID vaccine, a similar approach will be applied to the dental team. It has stressed government must take a consistent approach with all key workers. Dental staff, both NHS and private, have faced significant barriers accessing childcare during lockdown following failure to explicitly reference them in key worker lists.
Chair of the British Dental Association's General Dental Practice Committee Dave Cottam said:
“It’s indefensible that the most comprehensive flu vaccination programme in history will be delivered by dentists, but still won’t cover dentists.
“Millions of doses of vaccine are now being shipped in, but not one is currently earmarked to help us protect our staff and our patients.
“Failure to treat all dentists and their teams as key workers will keep impacting on millions who need our care. This fatally flawed logic cannot stand, with flu or any future COVID vaccine.”