In true, digital fashion of 2020, when NHS England first assessed our community pharmacy as a potential COVID-19 vaccination site, it was through a virtual tour, rather than a physical one.
It was the size and layout of the Woolwich Late Night Pharmacy that NHS England loved; we have a big hallway and two consultation rooms separate to the main pharmacy. And that’s why, after visiting us again in person two weeks later, they approved us so quickly.
So far, we’re the only community pharmacy registered to provide the vaccine in Greenwich, and one of just 15 community pharmacies registered in all of London at the time of writing. There was a lot riding on us getting this right.
By the morning of 21 January 2021, you could cut the atmosphere at the pharmacy with a knife: we were ready to embark on our first day as an official COVID-19 vaccination site. We worked tirelessly preparing for the moment we could open our doors to our first patients, and finally it was here. We were excited, but nervous.
After a few last-minute IT issues, the team made sure everything was resolved for the big day. And when we got into the pharmacy in the morning, we checked our bookings on the new QFlow system. Despite only going live the night before, we already had 70 bookings — proving just how necessary our new COVID-19 vaccine site is.
Two of our senior pharmacists were appointed as vaccinators, and the admin team, along with two dedicated volunteers, helped to run the rest of the clinic. This included ensuring that patients were socially distanced, comfortable, and fully informed about the process and what comes next.
All the hard work we put in paid off: everything went smoothly and we can safely say our first day was a huge success. Patients were so happy and grateful to receive their vaccines, and they praised our pharmacy team for their hard work.
Since then, we have scaled up our operations at the pharmacy: we’ve now got the capacity to administer 3,000 vaccinations per week. Our aim is to vaccinate as many members of the public as possible, so that we can protect our elderly and most vulnerable from COVID-19.
And that’s why we want to do more. At the moment, NHS England requires us to deliver the vaccine between 08:00 and 20:00, but we’re a late-night pharmacy! If NHS England will allow us to, we’re willing to stay open from 07:30 until 22:30, so we can protect as many people as we can.
On 13 January 2021, prime minister Boris Johnson suggested we’ll be “going to 24/7 as soon as we can”, and we’ll be ready to help in this effort, as soon as we get the go-ahead.
This service is truly a team effort: we have a WhatsApp group with all the London sites that have gone live on the vaccine, and it’s been fascinating to read their experiences. They have been very busy, and we look set to get much busier too; we’re urging all patients to book an appointment as soon as they are invited by the NHS or their GP to get their vaccine.
But we’re prepared for it. We have a pool of people we can approach for help if we need it. For example, a pharmacy technician at one of our other branches has recently been trained up to vaccinate.
It’s important that we limit our risk to our patients, and our families, too. That’s why many of us have received our vaccines with no reservations.
Being on the COVID-19 vaccine frontline, and being able to contribute to the health of the nation, is such an honour and we’ll never forget it.
Sobha Sharma, senior clinical prescribing pharmacist; Jignesh Mehta, superintendent; Rajen Kandel, chairman, Woolwich Late Night Pharmacy, London