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 program on record, the organization said.
The Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) has authorized the use of millions of doses of the Flublok vaccine, which will be imported from the United States 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 already are set to form part of the workforce during the vaccination program, they will remain ineligible for the vaccine themselves.
The Department of Health estimates the vaccine program 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, the BDA said.
Also, staff in Northern Ireland and Scotland already are eligible to access the vaccine free of charge, the BDA said. Unprecedented demand for the vaccine has left dentists unable to secure access to it via commercial suppliers, the organization added.
Dentists in England resumed face-to-face care on June 8 and are continuing to operate at a fraction of their pre-pandemic capacity, the BDA said. Dental leaders also have warned that flu season will inevitably add to disruption unless this approach is reconsidered, it said.
Furthermore, more than 14 million National Health Service (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 vaccination scheme.
Addressed to “All NHS frontline workers,” the message 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 to the flu vaccine for all dentists and dental team members.
Also, the BDA said it remains deeply concerned despite the clear recommendations from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation to give healthcare workers priority access to any future COVID vaccine, a similar approach will be applied to the dental team.
The BDA has stressed that 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, the BDA said.
“It’s indefensible that the most comprehensive flu vaccination program in history will be delivered by dentists, but still won’t cover dentists,” said Dave Cottam, chair of the BDA’s General Dental Practice Committee.
“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,” said Cottam.
“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,” he said.