Sobha Sharma Kandel shares her experience of running webinars and making videos to help promote flu and Covid vaccination uptake in her local community in southeast London…

Woolwich Late Night Pharmacy was the first community pharmacy registered to provide the Covid-19 vaccine in the whole of Greenwich and one of just 15 community pharmacies registered in all of London.

On January 21, 2021, we embarked on our first day as an official Covid-19 vaccination site. Since then, we have scaled up our operations at the pharmacy and to date we have vaccinated over 60,000 patients. More than 22 million jabs have been delivered by community pharmacy led Covid vaccination sites in the past 12 months.

Pharmacies have been central to the government’s Covid response, and these latest figures from NHS England and NHS Improvement (NHSE&I) show just how significant a contribution they have made to the vaccination efforts.

Community pharmacies in England, who were initially commissioned to provide the Covi-19 vaccination service were required to deliver 1,000 vaccines per week. While some larger pharmacies like ours can provide a very high volume of vaccines to the public and are
included in the current Covid-19 vaccination programme, the contribution of smaller high
street and neighbourhood pharmacies should not be underestimated.

The Pharmacists’ Defence Association (PDA) launched the “A Thousand Little Ships” policy proposal, using the analogy of the thousand little ships, which played such an instrumental role in the Dunkirk evacuation during the Second World War, the combined contribution of many smaller pharmacies could be highly effective, as well as providing choice and convenience of where patients receive their vaccination.

Community pharmacy also supports the Covid, influenza and other vaccinations to combat the significantly higher Covid-19- related mortality in ethnic minorities. At Woolwich Late Night Pharmacy, we have also worked closely with the BAME communities to raise awareness of vaccinations.

In partnership with NHS Southeast London and Greenwich council – we have been making videos to help promote flu and Covid vaccination uptake in the Nepalese community as well as the wider Greenwich population.

We also took part in a webinar to increase awareness on the Covid vaccinations for hard-to-reach communities, thereby helping to reduce health inequalities in our community. As such, our vaccination programme has been an enormous success, as we vaccinate more and more members of the priority groups each week.

The PDA go on to state that the low uptake of the Covid-19 vaccine among some minority groups poses a ‘significant risk’ to the vaccine drive and that community pharmacists could
help: Community pharmacists are both scientists and respected health professionals in local communities, they are trusted to provide flu vaccinations and have a unique opportunity to talk to people in their communities about the importance of the Covid-19 vaccine and dispel misinformation. Aside from supporting the Covid-19 vaccine rollout, community pharmacies have also been involved in the “biggest flu vaccination programme in history”.

It was reported in September 2020 that in the first four weeks of the flu vaccination service, community pharmacists vaccinated over 650,000 patients – three times the number vaccinated in the same period last year. More than a million more flu jabs have been delivered by pharmacies in England during the 2020-2021 flu season than during the entire 2019-2020 season.

At Woolwich Late Night Pharmacy, we have also encouraged our local community to take up the flu vaccination when they come in for the Covid vaccination, and we have also provided
off site flu vaccination services at a nursing home and a factory.

As Covid restrictions are relaxed and travel is going up, we have been busy with travel vaccinations too. This is another vaccination service that community pharmacies are well
placed to provide, especially as a lot of GP surgeries have stopped providing this service
due to decommissioning from the NHS.

Evidence suggests that community pharmacy can successfully provide diverse vaccination services, including seasonal influenza, pneumonia, travel vaccinations and hepatitis B for at-risk groups, within the provisions of the NHS or privately. Meningitis B which recently has been added to the national childhood immunisation protocol means that a lot of children and adolescents have missed out on this vaccination previously. Therefore, a private vaccination service for meningitis B is quite popular in community pharmacies.

If the NHS can allow community pharmacies to get involved in the NHS national immunisation programme too – it will reduce the workload on GP surgeries. In Woolwich Late Night Pharmacy, we have been approved to provide the Covid vaccine to children aged between 12-15 years old.

Currently, pharmacy sites have not been approved to provide the Covid vaccination to vulnerable children under 12, but it is something that is being planned for the near future- as other sites are being decommissioned for vaccination services.

In conclusion, community pharmacies are well placed to provide NHS and private vaccination services. We are on the frontline and fully accessible for patients, and we have proven that we can manage vaccination well in a community pharmacy setting.

Pharmacies are a valuable resource for the NHS, and pharmacists are highly trained healthcare professionals who the public have faith in and therefore are an excellent provider of safe and efficient vaccination services.

Evaluations have consistently demonstrated that patients are satisfied with pharmacistled vaccination services. A report ‘Impacts of current funding, policy and economic environment on independent pharmacy in England’ was published in September 2020
and prepared by Ernst and Young LLP for the National Pharmacy Association.

The executive summary states that 81 per cent of patients hold a favourable view of pharmacists, higher than GP, optician and dentist groups according to a recent survey.
During the Covid-19 lockdown, when other health providers were reducing face-to-face access, pharmacy stayed open.

Therefore, pharmacist consultations and vaccination services can relieve pressure on GPs. The NHS should closely look into providing vaccination services via the vast network of community pharmacies in the UK.

(Sobha Sharma Kandel is a senior clinical prescribing pharmacist and co-owner of Woolwich Late Night Pharmacy.)


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