Lack of community pharmacies commissioned for COVID-19 vaccinations is ‘a ticking time bomb’, say sector leaders

Community Pharmacy Wales has said that health boards must urgently start commissioning more community pharmacies to vaccinate patients against COVID-19.
Vaccine administered

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Four pharmacies in north Wales have begun vaccinating patients against COVID-19, amid warnings from sector leaders that the lack of pharmacy involvement in the programme is a “ticking time bomb”.

The four pharmacies currently offering COVID-19 vaccinations are all from the Fferyllwyr Llŷn Cyf multiple in Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board, Community Pharmacy Wales (CPW) told The Pharmaceutical Journal.

The Fferyllfa Llŷn Cyf branch in Llanbedrog was the first community pharmacy in Wales to offer the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccines during a pilot, which began on 15 January 2021; but CPW said that no local health board has commissioned other community pharmacies to be involved.

In December 2020, the Welsh government passed legislation enabling community pharmacies, and other primary care providers, to enter into agreements with local health boards to provide the primary care COVID-19 immunisation scheme.

Mark Drakeford, the first minister of Wales, later said that community pharmacies “in all parts” of the country would deliver COVID-19 vaccines.

However, in evidence given to the Health, Social Care and Sport Committee of the Welsh parliament as part of its review into the impact of the pandemic on health and social care in Wales, Mark Griffiths, chair of CPW, said that once the vaccination programme “reaches the working population of under 65s, community pharmacies will be best placed to play a key frontline role in vaccinating as many people as possible”.

“Unless health boards start planning these things now, and commissioning community pharmacies with urgency and pace, then this transition is a ticking time bomb in the vaccine programme,” he said.

Griffiths also warned that diverting pharmacists to work in mass vaccination centres risks bringing the community pharmacy network “to a standstill”.

“Many responses by Welsh government ministers to questions on community pharmacy involvement in the rollout have included reference to using us in mass vaccination centres,” he said.

“While [mass vaccination centres] are undoubtedly a key part of the of the rollout, they are not necessarily the best place for community pharmacists, since if a community pharmacy is without a qualified pharmacist it cannot dispense.”

The comments from CPW follow those made by Vaughan Gething on 2 February 2021, when he said the Welsh government expects “to make more use of pharmacists, both in our mass vaccination centres and those that are able to undertake vaccinations on their premises”.

However, he said “the limiting step … is vaccine supply”.

“We haven’t completely maxed out the ability of primary care to deliver against that, and as we have more vaccine coming on board, and we certainly hope we will have in the future, we should then be able to make even greater use of the well of goodwill, as well as the physical ability to deliver more vaccines than exist in primary care,” he continued.

As of 3 February 2021, some 490,570 patients in Wales have received their first dose of COVID-19 vaccine, with an uptake of 81% of patients aged over 80 years, 57% of patients aged between 75–79 years and 27% of patients aged between 70–74 years.

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Citation
The Pharmaceutical Journal, February 2021;Online:DOI:10.1211/PJ.2021.20208778