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The Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC) has said it is working with NHS England and Improvement (NHSE&I) and the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) to agree how pharmacies can play a part in the COVID-19 vaccination programme.
This comes as Sir Simon Stevens, chief executive of the NHS, suggested that a vaccine could be available before Christmas.
Stevens told a press conference that NHS England had already been in discussions with GPs to “set out the way in which they will play their part in getting COVID-19 vaccines to patients, as and when they become available”. And he said details would be provided to GPs this week.
He also told the press conference that delivery would involve community pharmacies and “mass vaccination centres” — which could include using the Nightingale hospitals — as well as “roving teams” that would prioritise vaccinations for care home residents and staff.
Although Stevens said it was important to ensure that systems for delivering the vaccine were ready before Christmas, he said that it was “not the central assumption” that this would be the case and that “the bulk of vaccine” would likely become available at the start of 2021, providing the phase III trials continue to produce positive results.
“PSNC is working with NHSE&I and DHSC to agree how pharmacy contractors can play a part in the COVID-19 vaccination programme,” said Alastair Buxton, director of NHS services at the PSNC.
“Community pharmacy teams have had a central role in the response to the pandemic so far, and this should continue as new treatments and vaccinations become available.
“The success of the flu vaccinations service highlights just how effective community pharmacies are in delivering key public health initiatives and means the majority of pharmacists are already trained in administering vaccines,” he added.
Community Pharmacy Wales told The Pharmaceutical Journal that discussions were also “ongoing” with Welsh government and local health boards in respect of community pharmacy involvement in COVID-19 vaccination in Wales.
Community Pharmacy Scotland said they couldn’t comment on the position in Scotland. The Pharmaceutical Journal has also contacted the Scottish government for comment.
At a House of Commons Science and Technology Committee and Health and Social Care Committee joint meeting held on 4 November 2020, Kate Bingham, chair of the UK vaccine taskforce, said that the Oxford/AstraZeneca adenoviral vector vaccine and the BioNTech/Pfizer mRNA vaccine were “the two vaccines which have the possibility of being ready before the end of the year”.
She said that interim data for both were “weeks away” from review.
Andrew Pollard, professor of paediatric infection and immunity at the University of Oxford and chief investigator for the Oxford vaccine trials, said that he thought there was “a small chance” that the vaccine would be able to be distributed before Christmas.
But he stressed that it was very difficult to say this with certainty: “[We] have to do analysis to find out whether they work; if they do there are other steps that have to be gone through and the timelines for those are not entirely clear to me.”
Also giving evidence at the session, Robin Shattock — head of mucosal infection and immunity at Imperial College London, and lead for its COVID-19 vaccine — said that owing to its vaccine using newer technology that has “never been in clinical trials before”, they would be looking at delivering “an efficacy signal” midway through next year.