Hospital pharmacists oversee ‘safe handling’ of COVID-19 vaccines in vaccination centres

NHS England has said that oversight from a pharmacy team “will be essential to ensure integrity” of the COVID-19 vaccines in hospital hubs and vaccination centres.

Vaccine being drawn

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The letter from Keith Ridge says that hospital chief pharmacists “will hold the lead responsibility for ensuring the safe handling and use of the vaccines at hospital hubs or at vaccination centres”

Hospital pharmacists working in vaccination centres and hospital hubs have been given the “lead responsibility” for ensuring COVID-19 vaccines are safely handled and administered, England’s chief pharmaceutical officer has said.

As the first vaccinations were given on 8 December 2020, a letter sent earlier in December 2020 from Keith Ridge, chief pharmaceutical officer for England, said a “lead responsible chief pharmacist” should be appointed for each hospital hub or vaccination centre.

Lead pharmacists should also appoint teams of senior pharmacists “with significant experience of the delivery of, and training related to, aseptic preparation”.

“Given the novel nature of the vaccines, pharmaceutical expertise and oversight will be essential to ensure integrity of the vaccines,” Ridge said.

“Chief pharmacists of NHS trusts/foundation trusts will hold the lead responsibility for ensuring the safe handling and use of the vaccines at hospital hubs or at vaccination centres.”

The letter comes ahead of the launch of England’s COVID-19 vaccination programme on 8 December 2020.

The programme will start in hospital hubs with the vaccination of outpatients aged 80 years or over who are already planning to visit hospitals this week, inpatients in the same age group who are being discharged home, and care home workers.

Fifty hospitals have been chosen by NHS England to be hubs, where vaccinations will take place on site.

Ridge said in his letter that the lead responsible chief pharmacist “should use their professional judgement to confirm to their regional chief pharmacist that the hospital hub or vaccination centre is ready to receive the vaccines”.

He added that, as part of their “declaration of readiness”, chief pharmacists should “confirm that the hospital hub has the appropriate governance systems in place to administer the vaccines, whether or not pharmacy professionals will be involved in the final dilution of the products”.

The letter noted that the final dilution of the vaccine “is a skilled operation, and both individual healthcare professionals and the governance systems within which they operate have to be satisfied it is being done by people acting within their professional competence”.

“Typically, these skills are ones which are normally found amongst pharmacy professionals,” he continued.

Vaccination centres, which will be managed by trusts but will operate away from trust sites, “will become temporary hospital premises listed as the temporary responsibility of a particular NHS Trust”.

“The expectation is that those vaccines requiring final dilution to be done at those premises will be done … by or under the supervision of a pharmacist,” the letter said.

Vaccination centres will run using a “pod” set up of two vaccination stations, one vaccine preparation bench and a post-vaccination observation area, with each pod vaccinating 520 patients per day.

Raliat Onatade, group chief pharmacist and clinical director for medicines optimisation at Barts Health NHS Trust, confirmed to The Pharmaceutical Journal that each vaccination centre could include multiple pods, but added that she had not been given a confirmed date for the opening of the trust-led vaccination centre.

Onatade, who is overseeing the vaccination centre run by Barts Health NHS Trust, said the “primary role” of hospital pharmacists in vaccination centres is “focused on the management of the vaccine and ensuring the handling, the storage, the transfer, the transportation, as well as making sure the regulatory framework under which the vaccines are being administered is” adhered to.

She added that hospital pharmacists “could be administering the vaccines but they don’t have to”.

“My expectation is that there will always be a trained pharmacy professional on site while the vaccination centre is open,” she said.

Primary care networks will also start running local vaccination services from 14 December 2020.

NHS England said on 27 November 2020 that it would commission a “limited number” of local vaccination services run by community pharmacy.

Last updated
The Pharmaceutical Journal, Hospital pharmacists oversee 'safe handling' of COVID-19 vaccines in vaccination centres;Online:DOI:10.1211/PJ.2020.20208627

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