Up to two million people a week will need to receive the COVID-19 vaccine to avoid a third wave of the coronavirus outbreak, a study by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) concluded last month (December 23).
However, pharmacists are concerned that without a nationally-commissioned community pharmacy COVID-19 vaccination service, this target is far from reachable.
Although a “limited number” of pharmacies have been approved as suitable vaccination sites, the majority of England’s community pharmacy network are not able to provide the service – or receive a fee of £25.16 for each patient to whom they have administered both vaccination doses – because they do not meet the requirements.
“I and my community pharmacy colleagues stand ready willing and able to provide a COVID-19 vaccination service,” Graham Phillips director of the Manor Pharmacy group tweeted. “Imagine what we could achieve working in concert with our GP colleagues.”
Ash Soni, owner of Copes Pharmacy in Streatham, London, agreed, adding that now the Oxford/Astrazeneca vaccine has been approved, the sector is on “tenterhooks” to see when it will be asked to help with the vaccination efforts.
“We’re in a position today where people are genuinely frightened by where we are and what’s going to happen next,” he told C+D yesterday (January 4). “So why would you not look for ways to get this through more quickly, more efficiently, delivering the maximum volume [of vaccines] in the shortest possible time?”
Ian Strachan, owner of Strachan's Chemist, Oldham, tweeted that the sector should be “immediately mobilised” to help meet the vaccination targets, while Royal Pharmaceutical Society English pharmacy board chair professor Claire Anderson tweeted: “Community pharmacists are trained, ready and waiting to give vaccines.”
“Biggest vaccination programme in history”
Responding to pharmacists’ comments, an NHS spokesperson said: “Pharmacies are already working with GPs to deliver the vaccine in many areas of the country and as more supply becomes available, many more pharmacists will play a role in delivering the NHS’s phased vaccination programme, the biggest in the health service’s history.”
The first pharmacies approved to deliver the local enhanced service (LES) COVID-19 vaccination programme will begin administering vaccines from January 11, NHS England and NHS Improvement (NHSE&I) confirmed in a letter dated December 28.
However, the number and location of the approved sites are still being finalised, NHSE&I told C+D.
It is prioritising those with high thoroughfare, but said it is considering how more pharmacies can be involved in the coming days and weeks.
Ian Dean, CEO of Community Pharmacy North Yorkshire local pharmaceutical committee (LPC), said a number of pharmacies in his LPC had applied to deliver the LES, but have not yet had the go-ahead from NHSE&I to administer the vaccinations from next week.
“I think it is quite right we have primary care network (PCN) mass vaccination sites, but I don’t think they alone will deliver two million vaccines a week. This needs to be augmented with pharmacies and GP practices – we need every sinew being pulled to get to the two million a week target,” he told C+D.
Barriers to involvement
Mr Soni said the set of requirements pharmacies had to meet to deliver the LES – especially the stipulation to administer 1,000 vaccinations a week – would have deterred many pharmacies from getting involved in the national efforts.
“Logistically it doesn’t work: That’s 12 vaccines an hour, 12 hours a day, 7 days a week,” Mr Soni calculated. He suggested a more realistic target of every pharmacy and every GP surgery in England administering 100 vaccinations a week.
“Pharmacy has demonstrated [with the national flu service] that it can deliver vaccination schemes at speed and en mass.”
Mr Dean agreed, adding: “If the vaccine service is going to be slow, it has to be because there’s not enough vaccines, not because we can’t deliver.”