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Academic: Pharmacists critical to easing COVID-19 vaccine concerns

Oksana Pyzik is the founder of UCL’s Fight the Fakes campaign against counterfeit medicines

Pharmacists are essential in easing patient safety concerns about the Pfizer/BioNTech and Oxford/AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines, a global health expert says in a C+D podcast

With two COVID-19 vaccines now approved for use in the UK, pharmacists are likely to be facing questions from patients about the safety of the vaccines – and may have some queries of their own.

Oksana Pyzik, the lead on an infectious diseases programme at University College London’s School of Pharmacy, says in a C+D podcast that pharmacists will be “critical” for reassuring patients on safety by telling them about the rigorous testing and regulation of the vaccine.

Ms Pyzik explains how vaccine concerns had been on the rise before the COVID-19 pandemic, the impact of which is visible in the rise of measles. In England, measles cases rose from 265 cases in 2017 to 968 in 2018 according to Public Health England, despite the disease being preventable with a vaccine. 

There is a paradox of higher levels of public scepticism accompanying the strongest science and most stringent regulatory checks we’ve ever had, she says. “I think that this anti-vaccine [concern] is a symptom of something larger than just the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Ms Pyzik is the founder of University College London’s campaign against counterfeit medicines, Fight the Fakes, which raised awareness of its cause through Fight the Fakes week from December 7-13 last year.

“Regulators will also have to work very closely with law enforcement to prevent diversion, theft and falsification [of COVID-19 vaccines] both physically and online,” Ms Pyzik says.

Her words follow the Interpol global police co-ordination agency warning its 194 member countries, including the UK, that criminal networks are targeting COVID-19 vaccines.

You can listen to the podcast below. Alternatively, subscribe to C+D's podcasts by searching “Chemist+Druggist podcast” on your preferred app or on Soundcloud.


Ms Pyzik says the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine requires specialised storage, requiring temperatures of around -70°C. Pharmacy contractors delivering vaccines should note Pfizer says they can be stored for up to five days between 2°C and 8°C.

Find out how you can get involved in delivering COVID-19 vaccines here.

Please note the sound quality of this podcast may be affected because it was recorded remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic

Have patients asked you about COVID-19 vaccine safety?

H Gokul, Community pharmacist

Very annoying. Every person on any platform has this unstoppable urge to say ''pharmacists should/can/will do this. Will these people first say how much will they be paid for any extra service. Will any lawyer accountant doctor give advice without pay? To all these self important people...please do your work and leave me to mine and do not ask me to assure anyone about anything.

I am not sat in an office but in the front line . What sort of an academic are you anyway to instruct me about my job?

Kevin Western, Community pharmacist

All medicines have a risk, and their use is measured against the possible outcome of not using.... Vaccines are generally very very low risk (yes I know about yellow fever)  with some risks associated with allergies... covid is extremely high risk - 1% fatal more for older populations. 

the benefit/risk ratio is huge, and, if you really want to continue being locked down in an economy in the gutter, and quite probably catch covid, dont have it.... but dont expect my respect, or sympathy.

Raluca Chisu, Community pharmacist

Your comment is rather based on the pressure caused by the prospect of a persistent lockdown or the negative impact on the economy. Now, I invite you to think further if you are a young individual and if you are looking to have children in the future. I hope that the history and studies will continue from now on, but in the light of my reading about the technology using mRNA, there are risks. In a very simplistic form yes the benefit/risk is favorable, but we are just at the start of mass vaccination with this completely new medicine. I think as professionals we have to show caution and patience to see how all this process is unfolding. Respect should be given to any individual who displays an informed choice, based on a patient-centered approach policy...


Soon-To-Be Ex-Pharmacist, Superintendent Pharmacist

I agree with you 100% Raluca. It seems to me that Kevin has swallowed the propaganda pill sideways and isn't applying a scientific mind to this.

Kevin Western, Community pharmacist

actually it isnt, its based on my knowledge of vaccines as a class of medicines and, as i said the relative risks, irrespective of age, of Covid, as well as the societal and economic effects. you are a professional, and, as such see vulnerable people every day, how would you feel in a years time, having avoided the vaccine if you infect someone else?  is their fault....or yours?

I get immensely frustrated by the ill informed anti vaccine propaganda which feeds into the "why should I, let others do it" attitude which affects flu vaccine too... great till you are in  intensive care saying sort me out......

Soon-To-Be Ex-Pharmacist, Superintendent Pharmacist

This is a new technology - your knowledge of vaccines doesn't apply to this one. There is not a single person in the world that can say hand on heart that this vaccine will prove totally safe over the course of the next decade. Those of us expressing doubts, and looking at the C + D poll, we are in the majority, are merely applying logic and our own informed reasoning to this issue. I'm not having a vaccine but it isn't because I think there are Bill Gates nanoparticles in it or that it'll turn me into a genetic mutant, merely that I don't know the long term effects and once that vaccine is in my body, it is irreversible. Therefore, my INFORMED decision is that I prefer to take my chances with a disease I have avoided against what seems insurmountable odds for seven months on the front line.

To continue your logic, how would I feel in a years time if I was presented with someone (hypothetical situation - I'm out of the crap in three weeks time) who was seriously ill with post-covid vaccination syndrome after I'd promised them it was safe? My fault or theirs?

Benie Locum, Locum pharmacist

I wonder if multiples will set targets for covid19 vaccinations if and when a service is provided by their pharmacies ?

Soon-To-Be Ex-Pharmacist, Superintendent Pharmacist

I wonder if the Pope may, possibly, practice Roman Catholicism.....?

Soon-To-Be Ex-Pharmacist, Superintendent Pharmacist

It's the unknown factor which concerns me. I'm fully aware of the risk/benefit ratio as things stand but.......things may change, this is new tech, no-one can see into the future and my risk of getting seriously ill with covid is very very small. Therefore I won't be having the vaccine and you can call me selfish if you want but frankly, if I pass it on to someone else, they won't have been vaccinated either so the 'have a vaccine for everyone else's sake' argument just doesn't stack up.

Watto 59, Community pharmacist

The benefit/risk ratio is not at all clear to younger and/or otherwise healthy individuals, though I would agree that current evidence would indicate a benefit to those in a high risk catagory.

Raluca Chisu, Community pharmacist

The lack of transparency and limited information provided to the healthcare professionals made me put question marks.

The type of vaccine is new, is using an mRNA technology, which can cause various type of response in the long term even to the next generation, then how can us, as healthcare professional, can encourage people to have the vaccine?!

The UK government waved the legal responsibility for potential law actions !!!

The government issues a clear document about the vaccine for health care professionals

This vaccine should not be compulsory!!!

I invite anyone to read the document which is a form of spc to educate patients.

As pharmacists, we should understand the mechanism of this type of vaccine. It is not so simple and does not have a predicted response in all individuals.

Also, some reactions, due to such peculiar mechanisms, can take time to express inside of the humans or the changes can appear only in the next generation.

So, my suggestion to anyone is to read, from trusted sources, and offer to each patient the choice of an informed decision.

Soon-To-Be Ex-Pharmacist, Superintendent Pharmacist

There is a poll on this very site which, from an admittedly tiny sample size, shows that only 26% (at time of writing) of us have no misgivings whatsoever about the vaccine, so how, in truth, can we reassure others when we are not fully reassured ourselves? I am thoroughly on record as saying I am not having the vaccine because I don't know what the long term effects may (or may not ) be, so how can I convince someone else to have it when I'm not convinced myself?

Alexander The Great, Community pharmacist

Agreed, lol id like to see CnD do a poll here on which pharmacy staff members would have the vaccine. 1st ever mRNA vaccine... very interesting!

Soon-To-Be Ex-Pharmacist, Superintendent Pharmacist

Got to admit, the science is absolutely fascinating but, and I may be reading this wrong, I'm not too happy with the thought of my own upper arm muscles being forced to grow antigenic proteins. May well be totally harmless long term but.......

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