When will pharmacies in NI, Wales and Scotland start to offer COVID-19 booster jabs?
Some pharmacies in England could start administering COVID-19 booster vaccinations under an updated PGD from next week, but if and when will those in Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland follow suit?
Northern Ireland health minister Robin Swann welcomed Tuesday’s (September 14) announcement from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) that those more at risk from serious disease or in priority groups 1 to 9 of the vaccine programme should be offered a third – “booster” – COVID-19 vaccination.
The JCVI advised that the booster vaccine dose is offered no earlier than six months after completion of the primary vaccine course, in the same order as during phase 1.
Announcing the next stage of Northern Ireland’s COVID-19 vaccination service, Mr Swann said: “Those who were vaccinated in the first stages of our vaccination programme will have received their second dose approximately six months ago.”
“Therefore, our booster vaccine programme will begin later this month. Initially, [hospital] Trust mobile teams will be visiting all residential care homes to vaccinate residents and staff and Trusts will also begin to vaccinate frontline health and social care staff.”
A total of 340 community pharmacies in Northern Ireland joined the service at the end of March, helping administer more than 35,000 vaccinations in the first six weeks.
“By early October, we expect to see GPs starting to invite their oldest patients in to receive their booster dose as they pass the six-month mark from receiving their second dose, while community pharmacies start by offering vaccination to non-Trust employed frontline staff such as domiciliary care workers,” Mr Swann added.
Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine creates logistical issues in Wales
Eluned Morgan, minister for health and social services in Wales, also welcomed the JCVI advice on Tuesday and confirmed the country will “begin deployment of the booster programme from next week”.
“We have been planning for an autumn booster [programme] with health boards over the summer months. I am confident our NHS is ready to deliver this, and we will start next week by offering a booster vaccine to people living and working in care homes and frontline health and social care staff,” she added.
However, community pharmacy’s role in the booster vaccination programme is still uncertain, Community Pharmacy Wales (CPW) told C+D today (September 16).
“Community pharmacies are keen to support the COVID-19 vaccination booster [programme] in Wales wherever possible,” Judy Thomas, CPW director of contractor services said.
“But [we] are conscious that the use of the Pfizer vaccination for the booster programme creates additional logistical difficulties for health boards in the use of primary care contractors (community pharmacies and GP practices), which could reduce the numbers of pharmacies involved,” she stressed.
JCVI Professor Wei Shen Lim said mRNA vaccines – either the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine or a half-dose of Moderna – are preferrable for the booster programme, based on clinical trial data.
Ms Thomas added: “We are already engaged and delivering the flu vaccination campaign across Wales, so are ideally placed to support COVID-19 vaccination where required.”
Health boards have not yet engaged pharmacies in Scotland
Scottish health minister Humza Yousaf was quick to also confirm on Tuesday that the Scottish government has accepted the JCVI advice on the booster programme.
People who received their vaccination during phase 1 of the national COVID-19 vaccination programme in Scotland will start to receive booster injections from September 20, the government confirmed.
However, Community Pharmacy Scotland (CPS) said health boards have not yet engaged with contractors about pharmacies’ involvement in the booster programme.