Open access article
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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NHS England has advised community pharmacy-led COVID-19 vaccination sites to offer appointments over the course of two or three days each week, instead of up to seven days.
This comes as the health secretary, Matt Hancock, said the UK faces a dip in supplies of vaccines, ahead of “bumper weeks in March”.
In an update sent to vaccination sites on 22 February 2021, NHS England said it recognises “that many sites would like more vaccine and have capacity to deliver more vaccinations each week”.
“We remain determined to vaccinate more people as fast as supplies allow, while also ensuring people get their second dose.
“When managing supply, you may open clinics that use the vaccine allocation over 2–3 days if good patient access is maintained and on agreement with your regional team,” the update said.
It added that this would “change when the vaccine supply received allows for full utilisation of your appointment slots”.
As part of the local enhanced service agreement, pharmacy-led sites are commissioned to deliver “a minimum of 1,000 vaccinations each week” over the course of “seven days a week, from 8am to 8pm” if necessary.
Overall, nearly 19 million COVID-19 vaccines have been administered as of 24 February 2021.
However, 21 February 2021 saw the lowest number of vaccinations administered in England (113,987) since the COVID-19 vaccination programme expanded to include delivery in vaccination centres and pharmacy-led sites on 11 January 2021.
When asked on LBC radio about the low number of vaccines, health secretary Matt Hancock said: “It’s all about the supply.”
“We have got a quieter week this week and then we’re going to have some really bumper weeks in March,” he said.
“It’s about the supply schedules… We have seen ups and downs in the delivery schedule.”
A spokesperson for Community Pharmacy Surrey and Sussex told The Pharmaceutical Journal that its pharmacy-led vaccination sites “have experienced some challenges with the supply of the vaccine”.
“The amount of vaccine supplied week-on-week remains more or less the same, but the regularity of the deliveries is very changeable — with reported changes in delivery dates and changes in the number of vials delivered on a given day,” they said.
“This makes managing appointments challenging as pharmacists need to ensure sufficient supply on any given day of appointments.”
The spokesperson added that pharmacy teams “have also reported that from week one they have had capacity to vaccinate more people, but despite the demand from patients, they haven’t been able to increase the number of weekly doses allocated to them”.
Sobha Sharma Kandel, owner of three pharmacies in Greenwich, London, including Woolwich Late Night Pharmacy, said appointments at her site have been fully booked, “but due to this issue with vaccine delivery supply we need to be careful and maybe reduce our slots”.
Deborah Crockford, chief officer of Community Pharmacy South Central, said the feedback from pharmacy-run sites in her local pharmaceutical committee (LPC) has been “more around a lack of bookings than a lack of vaccine”.
Nick Hunter, chief officer of Nottinghamshire, Rotherham and Doncaster LPCs, said, for the sites in his area, “the dip in supply hasn’t really hit yet”.
“The main issue affecting them is low bookings resulting in some clinics being cancelled, which has short-term concerns,” he said.
But he added that this might “balance out, because as the dip in supply hits, they will still have vaccine available and so can offer appointments”.
“The key thing affecting bookings is that the primary care network sites use a local booking system, and there is so much promotion of that system the nationally driven messages about National Booking System [NBS] get drowned out,” Hunter said.
“Ideally, we need further cohorts being ‘opened up’ — over 64s are being invited from today, but really we want over 60s or even over 50s.”
Community pharmacy sites had previously reported low numbers of bookings through the NBS, which NHS England said may be owing to the “timing of sending and arrival” of letters sent to patients eligible for COVID-19 vaccination.
NHS England declined to comment further on how long pharmacy sites will need to restrict their appointment numbers.