FILE PHOTO: FILE PHOTO: A health worker fills a syringe with a dose of the Oxford/AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine at the Appleton Village Pharmacy, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Widnes, Britain January 14, 2021. REUTERS/Jason Cairnduff/File Photo/File Photo

Just a week after six pharmacies went live with Covid-19 vaccination programme, another 65 community pharmacy sites are now set to join the national effort to vaccinate vulnerable groups against coronavirus.

“People trust pharmacists to protect them,” said Olivier Picard, the owner of Newdays Pharmacy, who has just opened a vaccine site in Marlow, Buckinghamshire. His pharmacy was “fully subscribed” as soon as bookings for Covid-19 jabs were enabled.

“It’s a daunting prospect but perfectly doable and we’re proud to be taking part in this vital programme,” Picard added.

Owner of Hollowood Chemists in the North West of England, Raj Patel, said: “We have set up our three vaccination sites in a matter of weeks, which has only been possible with the active support of the local communities we serve, including local councils and business owners.

“Everyone has stepped up to the plate and it’s shown the power of coming together in the common good as well as the responsiveness of community pharmacists.”

Both Picard and Patel are members of the board of National Pharmacy Association, who, along with other pharmacy organisations, have been calling for a wider utilisation of the skills and resources of community pharmacies up and down the country.

Labour’s shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth too has joined the call: “There are 11,000 community pharmacies, that mean up to 30,000 pharmacists, at the heart of delivering the vaccine.”

Responding to health secretary Matt Hancock’s answer to an ‘Urgent Question’ on the vaccine roll-out, Ashworth added: “We should be using them not just because of the volumes of doses they can administer, but because they have years of experience of building trust and vaccine acceptability with hard to reach groups and minority ethnic communities.”

Pharmacy bodies welcomed the expansion of the vaccine programme but reiterated that thousands of pharmacies could eventually be involved, to accelerate the rollout.

Responding to today’s news, Andrew Lane, chair of the NPA, said: “This represents a significant expansion of Covid vaccination sites, but pharmacies can ultimately go a lot further to protect the population.

“England’s network of 11,500 community pharmacies is a formidable asset in our collective response to the covid-19 pandemic. They are collectively capable of protecting millions of people if given the chance.

Many of this “second tranche of sites” are run by independent community pharmacists, although some national chains are also bringing sites on stream.

The Knights Pharmacy chain has revamped its headquarters in Redditch, Worcestershire into a massive hub that can vaccinate up to 300 people per day. The chain, which has 70 pharmacies nationwide, is now one of the first vaccination centres of its kind in the Midlands.

Dr Leyla Hannbeck, chief executive of the Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies, said: “Delighted to see more pharmacy-led Covid vaccination sites bursting into life today and many of our members being among them.

“However, among over 11,000 pharmacies across England not currently giving vaccines, many more of our members and pharmacies across the UK are equally determined and willing to play their part in this national effort.”

Pharmacy multiples like Boots and Superdrug have said they would be running additional Covid-19 vaccination sites from this week.

The Company Chemists’ Association (CCA) welcomed the opening of the new Covid-19 vaccine sites run by community pharmacies but renewed calls not to delay using more of them to provide the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine.

“Using the established network of pharmacies would bring the vaccine into local communities, meaning older people and those in at-risk groups can be vaccinated much closer to home,” Malcolm Harrison, chief executive of the CCA, said.

“The Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine requires similar storage and administration to the annual flu vaccines which community pharmacies have a track record of providing safely and at scale. We are confident that they could deliver more than 15 million jabs with this vaccine by the end of June.”

Meanwhile, the Royal Pharmaceutical Society’s England board chair Claire Anderson highlighted the need to include pharmacists and their teams to be “vaccinated as quickly as possible to help reduce the effects of this terrible virus.”

“The professionalism of pharmacists across hospital, GP practice and community sites who have stepped up to the challenge has been extraordinary. A huge amount of behind-the-scenes work has been done by colleagues across all sectors to make all the sites a success.”

Anderson’s plea came just hours before the Department of Health and Social Care confirmed plans to “offer a first vaccination appointment to all eligible frontline social care workers by mid-February.”

A spokesman confirmed with Pharmacy Business today that all eligible staff, including community pharmacy teams, will receive a letter with information about how and when they will receive their vaccination.

If you want to share your stories and/or experiences with us, please send an email to [email protected]