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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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Community pharmacies able to administer up to 400 COVID-19 vaccines per week can now apply to become designated vaccination sites, NHS England has said.
In a letter to contractors dated 16 February 2021, NHS England officials said it would reopen the application process to improve vaccination provision in a list of “priority locations”.
Signed by Emily Lawson, chief commercial officer, Ed Waller, director of primary care, and Keith Ridge, chief pharmaceutical officer for England, the letter added that while most contractors “must be able to provide at least 1,000 vaccines per week”, applications would also be accepted “from contractors who could provide up to 400 vaccines per week”.
“These sites may be considered where a site offering 1,000 vaccines per week is unlikely to be viable, or where an additional site would offer significant benefits for specific patient cohorts,” it said.
The call for applications follows talks between the government and pharmacy trade bodies in January 2021 to expand the role of community pharmacies in the COVID-19 vaccination programme.
There are currently 192 pharmacy-led local vaccination service sites across England, which were commissioned through an earlier application process in December 2020.
“We are now in a position where we have taken stock of those applications and have assessed where we think we may need more provision from local vaccination services for our population,” the letter said.
“We are therefore opening the designation process again to all pharmacy contractors on the NHS England pharmaceutical lists who may be able to provide a service where we have identified there is still a need for our local population.”
Mark Lyonette, chief executive of the National Pharmacy Association, said the announcement followed “weeks” of discussions around “extending pharmacy participation” in the programme.
“The lower minimum threshold of 400 vaccines opens the way for wider engagement, as we argued from the outset,” he said.
“In time, we hope to develop the opportunity still further, as the network of 11,000-plus pharmacies is an asset ready-made for an ongoing programme of vaccinations.”
Leyla Hannbeck, chief executive of the Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies, said it was “good to see that more pharmacies will now have the opportunity” to get involved with the vaccination programme.
“Our members are very eager to step up to support this great national effort to combat coronavirus and safeguard the local communities they serve.”
The application process closes on 28 February 2021, with NHS England expected to respond to successful contractors by 12 March 2021.
These sites will then start vaccinating during that month “or as vaccine supply and system-need permits”, the NHS England letter stated.