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Pharmacy trade bodies are in talks with the government about “using more community pharmacies” in the national COVID-19 vaccination effort, the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC) has said.
In a statement, the PSNC said the Department of Health and Social Care and NHS England have agreed to work with community pharmacy bodies “on plans to ensure that community pharmacies are used to maximum effect in the COVID-19 vaccination programme”.
“All parties agree on the benefits of using more community pharmacies in the national vaccination effort, recognising that, for some patients, pharmacies will offer a convenient setting in which to be vaccinated in due course,” the PSNC said on 10 January 2021.
The statement follows calls to include more community pharmacies in the rollout of the vaccine, with prime minister Boris Johnson saying at a briefing on 7 January 2021 that 200 community pharmacies will start administering COVID-19 vaccines from this week.
In its ‘UK COVID-19 vaccines delivery plan’, published on 11 January 2021, the government said that, by the end of January 2021, two million people per week in England will be vaccinated from 206 hospital hubs, 1,200 local vaccination service sites — run by primary care networks and community pharmacies — and 50 vaccination centres located in large-scale sites, such as football stadiums.
“The early community pharmacy sites will be able to offer significant numbers of appointments,” the plan said, adding that 96% of the population in England is currently within 10 miles of a vaccine service, with everyone in England expected to be within 10 miles by the end of January 2021.
However, the PSNC noted that pharmacies beyond those designated as vaccination sites by NHS England “will not be able to start doing this [administering COVID-19 vaccines] immediately — the first priority is to get all the mass vaccination sites up and running, and secondary sites like pharmacies will follow soon”.
Simon Dukes, chief executive of the PSNC, said he wanted “to see the sector playing a far bigger role” in the vaccination programme, adding that “pharmacy organisations are already working up proposals for this”.
“PSNC’s ambition is for many thousands of pharmacies to be used to deliver the AstraZeneca vaccine, which is logistically more suited to community settings,” he said.
Leyla Hannbeck, chief executive of the Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies, said it “has been working with our colleagues in the other national representative organisations in drawing up the proposals on how we can all coordinate and bring our resources into play as soon as possible”.
“We are not only a trained, competent and regulated workforce of pharmacy teams, but [we have] the ability to deliver at scale.”
Malcolm Harrison, chief executive of the Company Chemists’ Association, told The Pharmaceutical Journal that it was “developing a plan, that we will share with NHS England and Improvement, to enable people to access vaccinations close to their homes, with minimal travel or waiting times, from the existing network of community pharmacies”.
“The network can deliver 500,000 vaccines per week as business as usual. With some minor changes to how they work, we are confident that community pharmacies could easily vaccinate up to one million people each week.”
In Scotland and Wales, community pharmacies are expected to enter into local arrangements with their health boards to provide COVID-19 vaccinations.
Adam Osprey, policy and development pharmacist at Community Pharmacy Scotland, said one health board was currently looking into using community pharmacies to provide “a complementary [vaccination] service to the main programme”, although the agreement had yet to be finalised.
“Community pharmacies are an ideal location from which to deliver public health initiatives — we are clear though that any involvement in the vaccination effort should not impact on the ability of our members to deliver their core services,” he said.
But he added that “many of our members are well experienced in vaccination services [generally seasonal flu and travel services] and have the capacity to further contribute to the COVID-19 effort”.
On 4 January 2021, Vaughan Gething, the Welsh health minister, said people in Wales will be able to receive a COVID-19 vaccination from their “local GP practice or pharmacy” following the launch of a primary care COVID-19 immunisation service.