Clash over spare COVID vaccines in Redbridge

Redbridge NHS has cracked down after messages circulated offering spare COVID vaccines to elderly residents to prevent them going to waste.

A message, shared widely on Facebook and Whatsapp, asks residents aged 75 or older to email Healthbridge, an organisation of the borough’s GPs, to claim an unused appointment.

The Pfizer vaccine only lasts for up to five days once it is defrosted and cannot be refrozen.

Council leader Cllr Jas Athwal called the messages “fake” this weekend and was criticised by residents claiming to know people who had received a vaccine after emailing the address.

The clinical commissioning group (CCG) for Redbridge, which decides how NHS money is spent, later clarified the offer from local doctors was “done in good faith, but not NHS approved”.

A Gants Hill resident, who wished to remain anonymous, claimed members of his wife’s family had received the vaccine this way.

He said: “I was surprised to see the leader come out and label this message as a fraud and a fake. It appears GPs are just trying to minimise the wastage.

“This is a crisis, things are not working as well as they should be, and sometimes following protocol might not be the right answer. It’s about saving lives.”

A spokesperson for the combined CCG for Barking, Havering and Redbridge tweeted in response to Cllr Athwal to apologise for the “confusion”.

They wrote: “Cllr (Athwal) you acted under our advice to ensure vaccines are distributed fairly and we’re sorry you’ve been criticised unfairly.

“Our clinicians and staff are working incredibly hard to vaccinate as many people at highest risk from COVID-19 as quickly as possible.”

They added that residents should “wait until (they) are invited to come forward” for the vaccine rather than seeking to get one by “any other route”.

Redbridge Council committed on January 13 to use spare COVID vaccines to support the borough’s rough sleepers, following the example set by Oldham Council in Greater Manchester.

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Victoria Munro

Local Democracy Reporter