Community pharmacists are included in the government’s coronavirus vaccination plans as new laws which allow more healthcare workers to administer flu and potential Covid-19 vaccines have been introduced.

In a statement issued on Friday (Oct 16), the Department of Health and Social Care (DH) said changes made to the Human Medicines Regulations 2012 will now enable “the expansion” of a trained workforce that “can administer Covid-19 and flu vaccines” to protect the public.

The DH confirmed with Pharmacy Business that community pharmacists are part of this expanded team and they “will be able to administer the Covid-19 jab” when the vaccine(s) become available.

The expanded workforce, which also includes doctors, nurses, paramedics, physiotherapists and allied healthcare professionals, will “undergo a robust training programme to ensure patient safety is upheld to the highest standards.”

Health secretary Matt Hancock said: “These legal changes will help us in doing everything we can to make sure we are ready to roll out a safe and effective Covid-19 vaccine as soon as it has passed clinical trials and undergone rigorous checks by the regulator.”

“We will be able to increase the number of fully trained and experienced healthcare professionals to administer Covid-19 and flu vaccines under NHS and local authority occupational health schemes, as well as enable an expanded workforce that can administer these vaccinations to the public.

“This will make it easier and quicker for patients and healthcare workers to access the vaccines they need, protecting them against fatal diseases.”

The measures aim to save thousands of lives by increasing access to vaccines against potentially killer diseases. The trained workforce will support government’s plans for the rollout of a potential Covid-19 vaccine that is approved for use by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).

Deputy chief medical officer Professor Jonathan Van-Tam said: “Covid-19 vaccines are being developed at speed which, if successful, will save lives. All vaccines must undergo three stages of clinical trials and be assessed for safety and effectiveness by the regulator before they are given to patients.

“The measures outlined today aim to improve access and strengthen existing safeguards protecting patients.”

If a vaccine is developed before 2021, changes made to regulations will bolster existing powers that enable the MHRA to authorise temporary supply for any treatment or vaccine needed to respond to a public health need.

This means that if a vaccine has been found to meet the safety, quality and effectiveness standards by the MHRA then vaccinations can begin without any endorsement from the European Medicines Agency who – up until the end of the transition period in 2021 – would have been the only body able to grant a licence.

Dr Christian Schneider, interim chief scientific officer at the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency, said: “Patient safety is our top priority. The independent Commission on Human Medicines will advise the UK government on the safety, quality and effectiveness of any potential vaccine. No vaccine will be deployed unless stringent standards have been met through a comprehensive clinical trial programme.

“The preferred route to enable deployment of any new vaccine remains through the usual product licensing processes.

“But reinforced safeguards are now in place to strengthen the regulatory regime and our ability to protect public health, should temporary authorisations be necessary.”

The MHRA will have a national system in place by 2021 which will be responsible for granting licences for potential vaccines and treatments once they meet the standards of safety, quality and effectiveness.

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