New COVID variant and general practice

22 December 2020 

The emergence of the new variant is the last news we wanted to hear, especially when the Pfizer vaccine had given us a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel.

We don’t yet know whether what looks to be a highly transmissible variant has major practical implications for what we are doing in general practice - or whether it will make the Pfizer vaccine less effective. However, we have reason to be optimistic, given we know the immune response is broad and we expect to hear more from laboratory testing over the next couple of weeks.

It’s also encouraging that PCR and lateral flow tests seem to be picking up the new strain.

Early indications suggest that it may not be more pathogenic, so despite its infectivity it will not necessarily result in a proportionally large increase in hospital admissions and deaths. However, it’s highly likely that the new variant will become the dominant version of the virus, so the need for very robust PPE and hygiene measures cannot be underestimated.

The increased transmission and infectivity makes it even more important to remind all our teams about the importance of robust infection control, social distancing and isolation of those infected or contacts.

Protecting ourselves, our staff and our patients is a top priority if we are to minimise the impact of the virus on our non-COVID work.

We’ll continue to keep you updated as more information becomes available - and will continue to keep up the pressure on the four governments of the UK to ensure that GPs receive timely information and the support they need to continue contributing to the COVID effort.

The way in which you have rallied to roll out the Pfizer vaccine programme, especially at such short notice and given the logistical issues, has been superb.

Of course, there are some practices who are unable to participate, yet you’re still working flat out to deliver the ongoing flu vaccination programme in addition to the 'day job'.

On behalf of the College, I thank you again for everything you are doing to support and care for patients during these difficult times.

You are a credit to our profession, to the specialty of general practice, and to your patients.


Post written by

Professor Martin Marshall, Chair of RCGP Council

Professor Martin Marshall is Chair of the Royal College of General Practitioners and a GP in Newham, East London. He is also Professor of Healthcare Improvement at UCL in the Department of Primary Care and Population Health. Previously he was Programme Director for Population Health and Primary Care at UCLPartners (2014-2019), Director of Research & Development at the Health Foundation (2007-2012), Deputy Chief Medical Officer for England and Director General in the Department of Health (2006-2007), Professor of General Practice at the University of Manchester (2000-2006) and a Harkness Fellow in Healthcare Policy. 

He is a Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians of London and of the Faculty of Public Health Medicine and was a non-executive director of the Care Quality Commission until 2012. He has advised governments in Singapore, Egypt, Canada and New Zealand, has over 230 publications in the field of quality improvement and health service redesign and his primary academic interest is in maximising the impact of research on practice. In 2005 he was awarded a CBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours for Services to Health Care. 

A co-founder and driving force of the Rethinking Medicine movement, Martin has a passionate commitment to the values of the NHS, patient care and ensuring the GP voice is central in a time of great change. When he’s not working, he likes being outside, preferably on a mountain or a coastal path with his wife Sue and their puppy. 

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