Health boards in Wales have commissioned nearly 20 community pharmacies to administer COVID-19 vaccinations.
The pharmacies are spread across four of the country’s seven health boards. Hywel Dda and Cwm Taf Morgannwg Health Boards confirmed that no pharmacies have been commissioned to provide the service in those areas.
This comes after the chief executive of the NHS in Wales wrote to health boards on 1 March 2021, advising them to commission community pharmacies in their areas which are able to deliver a minimum of 100 vaccination appointments each week.
Health boards had previously told The Pharmaceutical Journal that around half of pharmacies had expressed an interest in providing the vaccinations.
Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board told The Pharmaceutical Journal that three pharmacies had since started administering COVID-19 vaccinations as of 22 March 2021, in addition to the four that piloted the service in January (see box).
A further four pharmacies in Aneurin Bevan University Health Board began administering COVID-19 vaccines during the week commencing 15 March 2021, the health board said in a statement.
Meanwhile, in Swansea Bay University Health Board, two pharmacies began giving COVID-19 vaccinations on 31 March 2021, with a third starting the following weekend.
“Community pharmacies are a vital health resource and I’m sure the public will welcome being able to get their vaccine in such a convenient location,” said Anjula Mehta, group medical director for primary care, community and therapies services at the health board.
“The pilot scheme will initially run for four weeks and we hope it can be expanded to include other pharmacies in the coming weeks and months.”
In Cardiff and Vale University Health Board, three pharmacies have been commissioned to “support the mass vaccination programme as part of a pilot phase from April in line with vaccine supply”, a spokesperson for the health board said.
However, these pharmacies have yet to start administering the vaccine, Community Pharmacy Wales (CPW) told The Pharmaceutical Journal on 6 April 2021.
Judy Thomas, director of contractor services at CPW, said: “Both Welsh government and CPW were always mindful that not all community pharmacies would be part of the COVID vaccine roll-out, but we remain disappointed that fewer than 20 out of over 700 have actually been commissioned.
“We have the expertise and the capacity to play a much fuller part and expect to be given the opportunity to do so, as Wales is now moving into vaccinating the much bigger Cohort Ten of the population, where accessible high street locations for those in the working population will need to be part of the solution.”
Powys Teaching Health Board did not respond to The Pharmaceutical Journal’s request for information, but CPW said it had no record of pharmacies being commissioned for the vaccination service in that area.
Overall, the expansion of the vaccination service means 2.4% of all 715 pharmacies in the country are now providing the service.
This is comparable to the proportion of pharmacies in England administering the vaccine, where 325 of nearly 11,300 pharmacies have been designated as local vaccination sites as of 2 April 2021.
In an updated COVID-19 vaccination strategy, published on 23 March 2021, the Welsh government said it plans to increase the use of community pharmacies moving forward to “ensure our model is fit for purpose in terms of the target population during this next phase”.
COVID-19 vaccination delivery in Wales
Community pharmacy contractors in Wales were invited to express interest in providing the Oxford/AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccination to patients under a new government immunisation service, which came into force on 18 December 2020.
The Primary Care COVID-19 Immunisation Service enables pharmacists to enter into a contract with their local health board to deliver the COVID-19 vaccination to patients.
The Fferyllfa Llŷn Cyf branch in Llanbedrog was the first community pharmacy in Wales to offer the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine during a pilot, which began on 15 January 2021.
Mark Drakeford, the first minister of Wales, had said in January 2021 that pharmacies “in all parts” of the country would be administering COVID-19 vaccinations.
However, on 2 February 2021, Vaughan Gething, the health minister, described vaccine supply as “the limiting step” to using community pharmacies more widely in the vaccination programme.