While national pharmacy organisations have been urging the government to utilise pharmacists’ skills in the rollout of Oxford/AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine, the Department of Health and Social Care has said it’s been holding talks with pharmacists on how they could support the delivery plan.

The Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC) says it’s keen to see community pharmacy “play a greater role” in the vaccination programme and that it has “clearly communicated the message” to both the DH and NHS England.

Following rigorous and detailed scientific studies, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) last week approved the Oxford/AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine for a rollout in the UK, clearing it’s use in people aged 18 years or older.

The vaccination programme will consist of two doses with the second dose administered 4-12 weeks after the first one.

“The transportation and storage requirements for this vaccine mean that it needs to be kept at temperatures of 2C to 8C, which is similar to a conventional fridge for up to six months and can be administered within existing healthcare settings,” the health regulator said.

The National Institute for Biological Standards and Control, part of the MHRA, has been and will continue doing independent laboratory testing to ensure that every batch of the vaccine meets the expected standards of safety and quality.

MHRA chief executive Dr June Raine said: “No stone is left unturned when it comes to our assessments. This approval means more people can be protected against this virus and will help save lives. This is another significant milestone in the fight against this virus.

“We will continue to support and work across the healthcare system to ensure that Covid-19 vaccines are rolled out safely across the UK. Protecting health and improving lives is our mission and what we strive for”.

Pharmacy bodies comment on Oxford/AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine rollout

Commenting on the vaccine rollout, Alastair Buxton, PSNC director of NHS Services, said: “The approval of a second vaccine, and one that has less complex handling characteristics when compared to the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, is a positive step.

“The rollout of the vaccination programme will not be without its challenges, but community pharmacists and their teams are used to overcoming hurdles to provide the best care to their patients, so we believe their skills should be used by the NHS to help administer the tens of millions of vaccinations that will be needed to help England escape from the grip of the pandemic.”

Royal Pharmaceutical Society’s chief scientist Gino Martini said: “This is enormously exciting news for patients and the NHS Covid-19 vaccination programme. Now community pharmacists all over the country will be able to provide the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine directly to patients. One of the major benefits of the new vaccine is that it can be kept in a normal fridge, so it’s much easier to distribute and store in pharmacies. We want the NHS across the UK to work with pharmacy to make this happen.

“Pharmacists are skilled in vaccination, having provided flu jabs and travel vaccines for years. This means the NHS has a ready-made workforce waiting to play its part to scale up the Covid vaccination programme and speed up delivery of the vaccine to at-risk groups…”

The chair of the National Pharmacy Association, Andrew Lane, said: “Given the urgent need to vaccinate large numbers of people, the NHS should deploy all the providers at its disposal for this vital task including community pharmacies. While the number of pharmacies involved initially may be small, we expect the pharmacy network to be a key plank of the programme as it rolls out. By vaccinating record numbers of people against flu this year, pharmacies have shown that they are capable of delivering vaccinations at scale.

“…What’s more, people have a high level of trust in their local pharmacists, which could be an important factor in overcoming doubts and misapprehensions about vaccines for Covid-19.

“Provided adequate resources for implementation, pharmacies can help the UK get through the coronavirus pandemic. A firm commitment to meet the extra costs already borne by pharmacies to deliver NHS care during the pandemic would be enormously helpful in motivating pharmacies for the next phase of the pandemic response.”

A spokesperson for the Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies said: “The AstraZeneca Oxford vaccine does not have the same challenges regarding, for example  temperatures, and community pharmacies are conveniently placed to support the rest of the NHS in delivering this historic vaccination programme at scale.

“The UK led by being the first county to start the Covid-19 vaccination programme and our members are ready to play their part in helping the country lead the fight against this pandemic. We are keen to work with NHSE to offer support.”

Malcolm Harrison, CEO of the Company Chemists’ Association, said: “Community pharmacies have been something of a ‘secret weapon’ during the pandemic, keeping their doors open throughout to serve their communities. In England, they have already administered more than 1.7 flu million vaccines in the first two months of this year’s flu season, equalling the number they delivered across the whole of last winter.

“As a result, community pharmacy teams have a track record of safely administering vaccine programmes at pace and at scale. Given that the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine requires similar storage to several other vaccines already provided by community pharmacies, our teams are well placed to administer it. We estimate that community pharmacies could administer up to half a million Covid vaccines a week.

“At times this year it has been clear that community pharmacy has not been at the forefront of NHS planning for its Covid response. Now is the time for the NHS to use its secret weapon, in the form of an established network of providers with a proven track record for delivery.

“We look forward to working with partners across the sector, the NHS and others to help make the roll-out of the vaccine a success.”

Separately, the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) chief executive Richard Torbett said:  “It’s great news that today we have another vaccine approved by the MHRA to help fight Covid-19.

“The world needs multiple vaccines to bring an end to the pandemic. In what has been a difficult year, it’s fantastic to see another scientific collaboration coming to fruition.”

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