Only one in three bids from community pharmacies to run COVID-19 vaccination services were accepted in England, figures provided by the Department of Heath and Social Care (DHSC) have shown.
The figures came from a written parliamentary answer, published on the 13 December 2021, from Maggie Throup, parliamentary under-secretary at the DHSC, in which Throup said that 5,376 expressions of interest had been received from 4,733 pharmacy contractors.
Of these, just 1,454 expressions of interest had been accepted, or 27%, as of September 2021.
And these bids resulted in 1,336 community pharmacy vaccination sites actively providing COVID-19 jabs as of 3 December 2021.
The figures reveal for the first time the large number of expressions of interest that have not been taken up from the community pharmacy sector.
Pharmacies signing up to the booster campaign were asked to register their interest by 28 July 2021, even if they were already offering the first two COVID-19 vaccination doses.
On 13 December 2021, health secretary Sajid Javid told the House of Commons that the government planned to involve “hundreds more pharmacists” in the booster campaign, as a result of the new target of offering every eligible adult a COVID-19 booster by the end of 2021.
However, the National Pharmacy Association (NPA) said it was disappointed so many pharmacies in England have not had their applications to offer COVID-19 booster vaccinations.
Nick Kaye, vice chair of the NPA, said all existing pharmacy applications to become vaccine centres should be “reconsidered immediately” to boost access.
“It’s scandalous that so many have been turned down. The NHS should be aiming to commission maximum provision, as this is a moment of national emergency. The queues outside current sites tell their own story.”
Alastair Buxton, director of NHS Services at the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC), said: “Pharmacy owners are at a loss to understand why nearly 4,000 sites which they felt could offer COVID vaccinations are not now being used to do so — this could help meet the prime minister’s targets, ease pressure on general practice and help improve accessibility for the public.
At a press conference on 17 December 2021,Nikki Kanani, medical director for NHS England, said that the number of COVID-19 vaccinations delivered by community pharmacies had gone “absolutely through the roof” and that “they are doing a fantastic job”. NHS figures from 13 December 2021 show that pharmacies delivered 44% of the 418,000 COVID-19 booster jabs that day.
Ashley Cohen, managing director of Pharm-Assist, had previously told The Pharmaceutical Journal of delays in getting sites approved by the NHS. Speaking in response to Throup’s answer, Cohen said that there needed to be “lessons learned”.
“I think what we should be doing is preparing pharmacy and pharmacy teams now to be ready, willing and able, so when we’re talking about next year’s flu and booster campaign — invariably there will be an ongoing annual booster campaign — we don’t have the 1,500 [currently approved pharmacies] available to do it, but we have five, six seven thousand pharmacies up, ready, trained, willing and able.”