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Pharmacists exceeded COVID jab target providing value for money, NAO finds

Pharmacy-led vaccination sites – along with GPs – administered 71% of the total 87 million COVID-19 jabs under the national programme by the end of October last year, a report by the National Audit Office (NAO) has found. 

This result surpassed NHS England and NHS Improvement (NHSE&I)’s initial planning assumptions for the two sectors, which it thought would deliver 56% of doses during that same period, according to the NAO report released this morning (February 25).  

Dedicated vaccination centres were “the most expensive method” in terms of delivery, with each dose costing £34, the public expenditure watchdog determined.

Meanwhile, GPs and community pharmacy sites delivered each dose for £24, according to the report.

The NAO concluded that the programme had been “an effective use of public money to this date”, considering “the unprecedented circumstances of the pandemic and the programme’s achievements up to October 2021”.


“The biggest and most complex vaccination programme”


England’s COVID-19 vaccination programme “met stretching and unprecedented targets” and was “the biggest and most complex vaccination programme in UK history”, the NAO wrote.

NAO head Gareth Davies heralded the success of the programme “in getting early access to what were brand new COVID-19 vaccines, securing supply of them, and administering them to a large proportion of the population at unprecedented speed”.

According to the report, GPs and community pharmacies were the most popular delivery model for all priority groups.


NPA: “Pharmacies saved nearly 20,000 lives”


Responding to the NAO’s findings, the National Pharmacy Association (NPA) cited UK Health Security Agency figures which “estimated that the programme overall prevented up to 128,000 deaths and 262,000 hospitalisations by September 24 and September 19 respectively”.

Based on the above findings, the NPA calculated “that pharmacies saved nearly 20,000 lives up to autumn 2021”.

“It is probable that the number is now considerably higher, given the central role played by pharmacies in this winter’s phase of the programme,” the NPA continued.

Though “vaccinations delivered by community pharmacies helped save thousands of lives” – which NPA chair Andrew Lane dubbed as “an incredible achievement” – this is “only one aspect of the sector’s valuable work on the NHS frontline during the pandemic”, he added.


The future of the vaccination programme


NHSE&I secured £8.3 billion to run the vaccination programme for two years, until the end of March 2022, according to the report.

By the of October 2021, £5.6bn had been spent to sustain it: “£2.9bn to purchase COVID-19 vaccines, and £2.2bn on deploying the vaccine.”

Mr Davies argued that those participating in the programme must now “redouble [their] efforts to reach those who are not yet vaccinated” and consider “what a more sustainable model will involve as it moves out of its emergency phase”.

The NAO report also pointed at “risks” that must be managed to ensure the success of the programme in the future: “Staffing issues” must be tackled, as well as “burnout”.

The healthcare system’s “lack of surplus capacity” will also present a challenge while “there are still around 3.7 million unvaccinated adults”, it wrote.

Are you or your pharmacy involved in the COVID-19 vaccination programme? Let C+D know and share your experiences with fellow pharmacists and staff on the C+D Community. Register for free, or access the site via LinkedIn.

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