A woman receives an injection of a COVID-19 vaccine at a NHS mass coronavirus vaccination centre in the Excel Centre in London, Britain January 11, 2021. Jeremy Selwyn/Pool via REUTERS

As the government pins its hopes on a mass vaccination programme as a way out of the Covid-19 pandemic by spring, a number of community pharmacy sites have been lined up to deliver vaccines from mid-January.

By the end of January the government plans to offer two million shots being delivered to around 2,700 centres a week in England, with the aim of immunising tens of millions of people by spring and all adults offered a vaccine by autumn.

To reach that target, the government has opened seven big vaccination centres while additional doctors’ surgeries, hospitals and some pharmacies have already started delivering shots.

While professional bodies in the sector have been urging the government to roll out the programme across all community pharmacies, the government, in it’s Covid-19 vaccines delivery plan published on Monday, said: “Community pharmacy sites will start to deliver vaccines from mid-January, offering bookings through the National Booking Service.

“This will help improve access through primary care to as many of the population as possible. The early community pharmacy sites will be able to offer significant numbers of appointments.

“Community pharmacies are integral parts of local communities and will be accessible and approachable places from which to deliver vaccination.”

“The vaccinations are really beginning to ramp up, 200,000 a day, we’ve done an incredible job this past week,” Nadhim Zahawi, the minister in charge of the vaccination programme, told Sky News on Monday.

Those in the four highest risk levels, including those over 70, the most clinically vulnerable and frontline health workers, will be offered the vaccines by Feb. 15, he said.

Chief executive of the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee, Simon Dukes, said: “Last week saw renewed interest in the role that community pharmacies can play in the Covid-19 vaccination programme following PSNC’s national media push, and we were pleased to hear ministers as well as (prime minister) Boris Johnson confirming that there will be a role for the sector to play.

“While it is positive that some pharmacies have already been selected by NHSE&I as local vaccination sites, we want to see the sector playing a far bigger role than this. The pharmacy organisations are already working up proposals for this.

“PSNC’s ambition is for many thousands of pharmacies to be used to deliver the AstraZeneca vaccine, which is logistically more suited to community settings. We know that patients will value this; that community pharmacies can do this; and that this would make a significant contribution to the national vaccination efforts.

“We hope to be able to share plans for this with contractors very soon so that they can make the necessary preparations and be ready to get going as soon as there is enough vaccine supply to enable smaller community vaccination sites like pharmacies to be stood up.”

The UK was the first country to approve vaccines developed by Oxford-AstraZeneca and by Pfizer/BioNTech, and on Friday (Jan 8) approved Moderna’s shot. It is aiming to offer shots to 15 million people by the middle of next month.

A spokesperson for the Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies (AIMp) said: “The introduction of AZ vaccine (and now Moderna vaccine) and its parallels with the flu vaccine has equipped all of us to visualise a more ambitious, even game-changing role, for community pharmacies in the government’s pledge to  vaccinate at pace.

“The AIMp had those discussions with NHSE team early last week and we have been working with our colleagues in the other national representative organisations in drawing up the proposals on how we can all co-ordinate and bring our resources in to play as soon as possible. We are not only a trained competent and regulated workforce of pharmacy teams but the ability to deliver at scale.

“That delivery should be the domain of all pharmacies utilising their trust access and convenience on behalf of the UK population. Community pharmacy is made for this moment and AIMp will be doing everything in its power to help make this ideal resource of the pharmacy network a reality for all.”

The government says that the growing network of vaccination sites will rapidly expand in the weeks and months ahead and by the end of January “we aim to have the capacity to vaccinate at least two million people each week.”

This will be achieved by expanding local vaccination services and boosting primary care networks with community pharmacy sites.

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