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Pharmacies to play vital role in autumn vaccine boosters

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In the UK’s Covid-19 fall booster programme, pharmacists will have a bigger role to play. The NHS has called pharmacists to gauge interest in signing up for the booster rollout. 

Alastair Buxton, director of NHS Services at the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC), told The Financial Times (FT) that the NHS had already contacted pharmacies. “There are estimates that we could see around 1,700 or 2,000 pharmacies [sign up],” he said.

About 700 pharmacies are currently involved in the immunisation programme. 

This move aims to help the NHS reduce hospital vaccine services to clear an urgent backlog in medical treatments.

Senior figures within the health service told the FT they expected the majority of hospital vaccination centres to close to the general public to focus on administering jabs to staff and social care workers.

The FT report said that the NHS is still awaiting final guidance on administering the booster programme from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), which is expected in the coming weeks.

Buxton told FT: “The sector was well placed to handle the demands of jointly administering flu and Covid-19 vaccinations. It may be a case of one shot in each arm”.

However, the most challenging part will be the delivery of the flu and Covid vaccines simultaneously as the seasonal flu programme this year is expanded, with 35 million people across England, including pregnant women, frontline health staff, the over-50s and primary and secondary school children expected to be eligible for the jab.

The FT report quoted Andrew Lane, chair of the National Pharmacy Association (NPA) as saying: “Success will depend on uninterrupted supplies of the vaccines and an agile response at local level to meeting demand.”

In the long term, pharmacies could offer a convenient and accessible alternative to vaccine centres which would reduce pressure on parts of the health service, said Lane.

“Pharmacies are present in all communities, including the most deprived areas of the country,” he added. “They are also a more sustainable option than the temporary infrastructure of mass vaccination centres — we’re here for the long haul.” 

The NHS said that the planning is already underway to deliver booster jabs this autumn in line with interim guidance from the JCVI with clinical trials for booster jabs ongoing.

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