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The Royal Pharmaceutical Society has made this article free to access in order to help healthcare professionals stay informed about an issue of national importance.
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Nearly 30 community pharmacies have expressed an interest in administering COVID-19 vaccines in one health board in northern Scotland, but the board has said there is “no timescale” for them to begin work.
NHS Highland told The Pharmaceutical Journal that it has received 28 expressions of interest from community pharmacies that would like to take part in the health board’s vaccination programme. This is thought to be the first tranche of pharmacies to ask to provide vaccinations.
Health boards in Scotland have been able to enter into local arrangements with pharmacy contractors for the delivery of the COVID-19 vaccination programme, following an agreement between the Scottish government and Community Pharmacy Scotland.
The agreement, set out in a circular in November 2020, noted that community pharmacies would “not be the default delivery channel for COVID-19 vaccination,” owing to “the need to maintain good infection prevention and control practices and appropriate physical distancing measures”.
The spokesperson from NHS Highland added that, despite accepting expressions of interest, it has “no timescale” for when it will use community pharmacies as part of its vaccination programme.
But they said that “it is highly likely that they will form part of the wider vaccination programme when larger numbers of the population are to be vaccinated”.
Meanwhile, NHS Fife, NHS Grampian and NHS Forth Valley health boards said they were all in the early stages of discussions around using community pharmacies to administer COVID-19 vaccines, but were not taking expressions of interest.
“The COVID-19 vaccination programme is initially being delivered via local GP practices and in community hubs to effectively target the priority groups; however, community pharmacies may be involved in future stages,” said NHS Forth Valley in a statement.
NHS Lothian said it was currently undertaking a scoping exercise “to understand potential capacity within the community pharmacy network” to administer vaccinations.
Roisin Kavanagh, director of pharmacy at NHS Ayrshire and Arran, also said its local community pharmacies were being “kept informed of the progress of the programme in preparation for potential future involvement,” adding that they are “well placed to support the COVID-19 vaccination programme, having supported the seasonal flu immunisation programme”.
Kavanagh noted that some of the health board’s community pharmacists “are supporting vaccinations in the current phase of the mass COVID-19 vaccination programme at our designated vaccination centres”.
Some 350 community pharmacists are providing vaccinations in community clinics in the NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde health board, it said in a statement. But no indication was given in the statement that COVID-19 vaccinations would be delivered from within community pharmacies in the future.
Jonathan Burton, chair of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society’s Scottish Pharmacy Board, said plans to involve community pharmacy in the national COVID-19 vaccination programme in Scotland must consider “the vital role that community pharmacists play in medicines supply, public health and NHS Pharmacy First Scotland consultations”.
“Utilisation of community pharmacy premises should be carefully planned and implemented at the appropriate time, in line with current NHS Board arrangements, to ensure maximum efficiency of vaccine delivery, while ensuring continuation of community pharmacy’s existing vital roles,” he said.
“This should fit seamlessly alongside existing mass vaccination centres [in which pharmacists already have a role] and GP practice provision to increase vaccine accessibility for the Scottish public.”
Concerns were previously raised by Ruth Davidson, a Conservative member of Scottish Parliament, that “Scotland’s vaccine rollout is lagging behind the rest of the United Kingdom’s and that the pace needs to be picked up”.
On 2 February 2021, Nicola Sturgeon, first minister, said she expected “legitimate questions” about the overall number of vaccinations in Scotland compared with other parts of the UK.
As of 4 February 2021, 694,347 people have received their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccination, including 98% of care home residents, 90% of patients aged over 80 years and 38% of people aged 75–79 years.