Vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi

Pharmacists will play a part in the rollout of the Covid-19 vaccines, a government minister said this morning after The Daily Telegraph reported on Tuesday that pharmacy offer to deliver the jabs were snubbed by ministers.

Vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi on Wednesday insisted that every sector, including “community pharmacies and the independent pharmacy sector”, will have a part to play in the vaccination programme.

He told Sky News he was confident that the UK would hit the “stretching target” of vaccinating almost 14 million people by mid-February, and that community pharmacies would play a role.

NHS scrabbling around: Simon Dukes

On Tuesday The Daily Telegraph quoted Simon Dukes, chief executive of the Pharmaceutical Negotiating Services Committee, as saying: “We’ve been telling the NHS that we are ready, willing and desperate to help. But we’ve been met by a de facto silence.”

“Rather than scrabbling around trying to find retired GPs and nurses and anyone who has possibly dated skills, you’ve got an army of thousands of pharmacists up and down the country who administer the flu jab every winter.”

Dukes indicated that allowing all pharmacies across the country to deliver the programme which could go a long way in ensuring Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s “Herculean” aim to vaccinate around 14 million of the most vulnerable people against Covid-19 by the middle of next month is achievable.

“We’ve got 11,400 pharmacies with at least one trained pharmacist. So if we vaccinated 20 people a day, that would be more than 1.3 million every week. You need the big hubs, of course you do, but we can help in a substantial way.”

“I think if you ask Mrs Jones or Mrs Patel, who has to catch perhaps two buses to get there to have her jab and then come back again, risking catching this disease on the way, I think she’d much rather go to her local Boots or an independent pharmacy to get it done there,” he said, adding: “It’s the ability to walk in from the street, as opposed to travelling many miles.”

Dukes regretted the sector could have been ready for the programme much earlier. “It’s perhaps indicative of what we’ve seen throughout this crisis, of sluggishness in terms of the ability to be agile, and to move quickly.”

Prime Minister Johnson has set a target of vaccinating the elderly, including care home residents, the clinically vulnerable and frontline workers – around 14 million people – by mid-February.

Pharmacy is ready to help: RPS

Royal Pharmaceutical Society president Sandra Gidley said there were thousands of high street pharmacies who were “ready, willing and able” to assist in the rollout of the programme, but were being excluded because they had to be able to guarantee they could deliver at least 950 doses per day.

Zahawi said pharmacies were a “very important resource”, but hospitals were used first so the rollout can be done in a “careful way” followed by GPs, with pharmacies helping out later although he was vague on when this would happen.

Asked if it was achievable to vaccinate 14 million people by the middle of February and 2 million vaccinations each week by the end of this month, Zahawi said it was.

“It is a Herculean effort,” he told Sky, adding that it was stretching but deliverable. He said that one out of four of people over 80 years old had been vaccinated with their first shot.

What’s stopping NHS from mobilising more pharmacies: NPA

Meanwhile, the National Pharmacy Association (NPA) is urging the government and NHS to permit more pharmacies to vaccinate people against Covid-19.

NPA chair, Andrew Lane, said: “Pharmacies can play a significant role in the Covid vaccination programme, and we’re well equipped to get started immediately.

“We have been on the health service frontline throughout the pandemic and now we want to join this latest, decisive, battle against this deadly virus.

“The vast majority of pharmacies provide flu vaccinations, so there are thousands of potential local pharmacy sites for vaccinating against Covid, capable of protecting millions of people within weeks.

“We are bound to ask, what on earth is stopping the NHS from mobilising more pharmacies for this vital task?

“Pharmacists want to help, they are already trained for giving vaccines, and people are crying out for convenient local access to the vaccine. It’s surely a no-brainer that pharmacies should be supported to take part in this urgent national effort.

“The process for signing-up to give vaccines needs to be as agile as the workforce and should allow pharmacy teams to come on board rapidly. Approval of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, for which storage is easier, means that many more pharmacies are now capable of offering vaccinations.”

It’s worth recalling that NHS England announced this week that community pharmacies will start administering Covid-19 vaccines to patients in England from Monday, Jan 11.

NHS could miss big opportunity: CCA

The NHS must learn from the process of organising the Pfizer Covid vaccine programme to ensure that the full potential of community pharmacies is used to roll out other Covid vaccines, the Company Chemists’ Association (CCA) has said.

Community pharmacists could currently provide around half a million Oxford-AstraZeneca Covid vaccinations each week, and potentially double this capacity with minor adjustments.

The Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine’s storage requirements are similar to the flu vaccine, which community pharmacists already provide to millions of people every year. However, there is still uncertainty about how the NHS will make full use of this capacity.

Malcolm Harrison, chief executive of the CCA, said: “The challenges of organising the Covid mass vaccination programme are enormous and we have been working with the NHS to help address them. The Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine represents a historic moment in our collective efforts to beat Covid, given that it is easier to store and prepare than the Pfizer vaccine. This should help the NHS unleash the full potential of pharmacy teams up and down the country.

“Community pharmacies offer an army of experienced and qualified professionals ready and willing to provide the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine in thousands of accessible sites across the country. However, we are concerned that the NHS could miss the opportunity to use this network at its full capacity unless lessons are learnt from the planning of the Pfizer vaccine programme.

“The delivery of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine does not need to be established from the ground up. There are tried and tested logistical and clinical networks that can easily be used to deliver what is needed with very little lead time.

“We urge the NHS to adopt a flexible approach to providing accessible vaccinations by working with the CCA and our pharmacy partners to find solutions to the challenges we face. We must leave no stone unturned in our efforts to ensure the Covid vaccine programme is a success, without any unnecessary delay.”

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