People aged over 50 years and in at-risk groups will soon be able to book their COVID-19 booster vaccinations as part of the the autumn booster campaign launching on 12 September 2022, NHS England has announced.
In a letter to NHS providers, including community pharmacies, dated 18 August 2022, NHS England said it would only deploy Moderna’s bivalent vaccine for all adult boosters, in line with advice from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation.
The vaccine, effective against both the original and Omicron strains of COVID-19, was approved by the Medicines and Healthcare Regulatory products Agency on 15 August 2022, making the UK the first country to authorise a bivalent COVID-19 vaccine.
The bivalent vaccine can be stored in a refrigerator at 2–8°C for a maximum of 30 days, if unopened.
NHS England said in the letter that the booking system will open on 5 September 2022, with patients able to book slots for 12 September 2022 onwards, and that all participating sites are expected to be vaccinating at “full operational capacity” from 19 September 2022.
However, pharmacy leaders have expressed concern that reduced funding for COVID-19 boosters could make it more difficult for some community pharmacies to be part of the autumn booster programme.
In July 2022, it was announced that the fee that community pharmacies will be paid to deliver each COVID-19 booster this autumn will fall from £12.58 per vaccination to £10.06.
Responding to an email enquiry from The Pharmaceutical Journal, a spokesperson for the National Pharmacy Association said that the body was “disappointed that funding per vaccination has been reduced as this could challenge the viability of the service for some who are offering vaccinations”.
They added: “This would be especially disappointing given that community pharmacies have already made such an important contribution to the COVID vaccine programme and have been central to the NHS response to COVID throughout.”
Leyla Hannbeck, chief executive of the Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies (AIMp), told The Pharmaceutical Journal on 17 August 2022: “The unilateral decision to reduce this fee came as little surprise.”
Nevertheless, Hannbeck added that AIMp still believed that community pharmacy teams will take up the opportunity to be part of the vaccination programme.
“The [COVID-19 vaccination] service has been hugely welcomed by patients and has been popular with pharmacy teams, so we see little chance of it not being embraced by all. We would like to see the service rolled out through a greater number of pharmacies to increase access and uptake.”