The comment comes after the government announced plans on 30 November 2021 to offer a COVID-19 booster jab to all eligible adults by the end of January 2022 to mitigate the impact of the Omicron variant.
In a statement, the government said the booster vaccination programme would be sped up “with 1,500 community pharmacy sites, additional hospital hubs, and pop-up sites opening in convenient locations across the country”.
According to the latest data from NHS England, as of 17 November 2021, there were 1,464 pharmacy-led vaccination centres in England.
When asked, NHS England would not comment on whether it was taking further expressions of interest from community pharmacies in response to the expansion.
In a statement to The Pharmaceutical Journal, Leyla Hannbeck, chief executive officer of the Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies (AIMP) said that the AIMP was “pleased that more pharmacies are now being given the opportunity to take part”.
However, she added that the government needs “to ensure that pharmacies are appropriately funded but also ensure that they cut down on unnecessary red tape, such as the Community Pharmacy Patient Questionnaire [and] Pharmacy Quality Scheme that are taking so much time in pharmacies”.
A spokesperson for the Company Chemists’ Association (CCA) also welcomed the government’s plans to expand the vaccination programme within community pharmacies, but said it was “concerned about the shortage of pharmacists across the UK and about how any additional workload will impact on the ability of pharmacies to continue to deliver core pharmaceutical services”.
In comments made to The Pharmaceutical Journal, the CCA spokesperson called on the government to “enable pharmacies to have the flexibility to alter their opening hours to allow pharmacies to prioritise vaccines in periods of less demand” and “accelerate plans to allow pharmacy technicians to work under a patient group direction” that would enable them to administer vaccines.
The CCA also said the NHS “should remove the need for 15-minute post-vaccine observation to allow for pharmacies to administer vaccines at higher capacity”.
Speaking at a press conference on 30 November 2021, Amanda Pritchard, chief executive of NHS England, said this was an area the organisation was looking into.
“We’re looking at whether we can safely reduce, or even eliminate, the 15-minute wait after the jab is delivered so we could potentially increase the number of people able to get jabs every day in smaller sites, like pharmacies,” she said.
Pritchard added that booster vaccine providers would also be able to claim £15 per jab until the end of January — up from £12.58 per jab.
Commenting on the role of community pharmacists in the COVID-19 booster campaign, Thorrun Govind, chair of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society in England, said: “With health and care staff already under pressure as we head in to winter, the government has rightly recognised the need for additional resources to accelerate the COVID-19 booster roll-out.
“This must be backed up on adequate vaccines supplies, a robust booking system and clear communication with the public on when they are eligible to come forward.”
Andrew Lane, chair of the National Pharmacy Association, said it was “no surprise that the NHS has come knocking in relation to the booster programme”.
“The uplift in fees is a recognition of the intensity of the work and the urgent priority being given to getting people protected against COVID-19 this winter.”