It is rare that we use this column to say ‘thank you’.
It usually calls for change, rails against the deficiencies of the latest government policy or urges the sector to take an issue more seriously. But this time it is more than warranted.
It is right to take a moment to celebrate the incredible — and often overlooked — contribution pharmacy teams are currently making to the national COVID-19 vaccination campaign.
This campaign has been the one bright spot in an otherwise bleak start to the year. At the time of writing, more than 9 million people in the UK had received at least one dose of one of the COVID-19 vaccines authorised for use in the UK.
This is an incredible achievement — and a pharmacy team member has been involved in ensuring that every dose has been administered safely.
Whether it comes to hospital-run hubs, GP or community pharmacy clinics, or large-scale vaccination centres, pharmacy has been a crucial part of designing and implementing the process to prepare and administer vaccines and navigating the storage and movement restrictions associated with each vaccine, particularly the cold-chain requirements of the Pfizer vaccine.
It has coped with an uncertain legal situation and, sometimes daily, changes in advice; for example, regarding extending dose intervals and getting an extra dose from each vial. And some will also have administered vaccinations themselves. All this during a pandemic and with the health service experiencing unprecedented pressure.
Of course, there is more to do. The government has set a challenging target of vaccinating every care home resident and care worker, all those aged over 70 years, NHS frontline staff and anyone who is clinically extremely vulnerable by mid-February 2021, with the rest of the priority groups and people aged 50 years and over after that. The BBC estimates this totals around 32 million people.
The health service cannot achieve these targets unless more community pharmacies are involved, particularly to reach marginalised groups — who are more likely to die from COVID-19 — and provide more convenient access to COVID-19 vaccination nearer people’s homes.
As of 28 January 2021, 117 community pharmacies are administering vaccines across England, and the first minister of Wales has pledged that community pharmacists in all parts of Wales will be used. But there are tens of thousands capable of scaling up COVID-19 vaccination quickly, although the main problem currently is the unpredictable nature of supply. However, as Pfizer and AstraZeneca scale up production and the Moderna vaccine comes on stream in the spring, this problem should be reduced.
Regardless of all this, all sectors of pharmacy should feel very proud of the contribution it has already made to the safe administration of millions of doses of the COVID-19 vaccines. This is not the first time pharmacy professionals have proven their fundamental place as part of the multidisciplinary team during the pandemic. Once again, thank you.