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

Community pharmacy contractors who can provide up to 400 vaccines per week have now been offered the opportunity to contribute to the Covid-19 vaccination programme.

In a letter to pharmacy contractors and local pharmaceutical committees on Tuesday (Feb 16), the NHS said it has expanded the criteria for Covid vaccine sites so that all pharmacy contractors on the NHS England pharmaceutical lists who can handle 400 vaccines a week can now apply to do so.

The previous minimum threshold was 1,000 jabs per week which resulted in a total of 192 community pharmacies being chosen to take part in the pharmacy-led Local Vaccination Service sites since December.

A designation process was first run in November 2020 for pharmacy contractors to apply to
provide a Local Vaccination Service. This process is now being repeated but it will be down to NHS England and NHS Improvement to determine which sites are commissioned to provide the service.

Only pharmacy contractors who are designated Local Vaccination Service sites and are commissioned to provide the Local Enhanced Service by NHS England and NHS Improvement can provide Covid-19 vaccination.

The letter from the NHS explicitly states that the threshold will be lowered “where a site offering 1,000 vaccines per week is unlikely to be viable, or where an additional site would offer significant benefits for specific patient cohorts”.

However, pharmacy leaders hope the revised limit will allow many more community pharmacies to join the national effort to inoculate the population against the virus.

“The lower minimum threshold of 400 vaccines opens the way for wider engagement,” said Mark Lyonette, chief executive of the National Pharmacy Association.

“This is an example of commissioner and provider community working hand-in-hand to make things happen at scale and pace. In time, we hope to develop the opportunity still further, as the network of 11,000-plus pharmacies is an asset ready-made for an ongoing programme of vaccinations.”

The Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee said many thousands of community pharmacies could support the Covid-19 vaccination programme, and would be particularly helpful in targeting those who don’t access other healthcare providers.

PSNC chief executive Simon Dukes commented: “The NHS has pulled off a phenomenal achievement in vaccinating more than 15 million people against the coronavirus since December. However, there is still some way to go and the nationwide drive to reach as many people in the priority groups as possible is welcomed.

“Currently two hundred NHS community pharmacies are coordinating Covid-19 vaccination sites, they are all in areas where they are best placed to reach groups at higher risk of mortality from Covid-19.

“PSNC wants every pharmacy which wants to do its national duty to be able to give vaccinations. We are working with NHS England and NHS Improvement on a plan for this, and hopefully this will be rolled out as soon as possible to get NHS community pharmacies playing their part in this huge vaccination effort.”

Malcolm Harrison, chief executive of the Company Chemists’ Association, said: “This is a ‘win win’ for the public, the NHS and community pharmacies. More people will be able to receive their Covid jab close to close to their homes, rather than having to travel up to ten miles to visit a larger, regional vaccination site.

“Easily accessible community pharmacies are particularly important for people living in less affluent areas because, sadly, we know that the established links between poverty and worse health are reflected in Covid death rates. It is therefore vital that community pharmacy teams who can provide Covid vaccines are able to do so and protect their communities.”

‘Significant milestone’

Earlier, prime minister Boris Johnson hailed a “significant milestone” on Feb 14 as data showed that 15 million first doses of Covid-19 vaccinations had been delivered.

“Today we have reached a significant milestone,” Johnson said. “No one is resting on their laurels… We’ve still got a long way to go and there will undoubtedly be bumps in the road, but after all we’ve achieved, I know we can go forward with great confidence.”

The government set a Feb. 15 target date to reach 15 million people in priority categories: care home residents and staff, frontline health and care workers, all those aged 70 or over and the clinically extremely vulnerable.

The vaccine programme is seen as one of few successes in the government’s handling of a pandemic that has left the country with a higher death toll and worse economic damage than its peers. With a population of around 67 million, the United Kingdom’s vaccination progress is among the fastest in the world.

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