A new hope: Covid-19 vaccine rollout
The wait is over: the first Covid-19 vaccine has been administered. But as vaccine roll-out advances, and the UK starts the long journey to normality, where do community pharmacy teams fit in?
On the morning of Tuesday 8 December 2020, 90-year-old Margaret Keenan from Coventry became the first person in the world to receive Pfizer’s Covid-19 vaccine outside of clinical trials, thus kicking off the most hotly-anticipated vaccination campaign in UK history.
By the end of the day, thousands more had received their jab. As many as four million at-risk individuals and health workers could be immunised by the end of the year.
Westminster, the devolved governments and NHS bodies recognise that many pharmacy teams are ready and willing to support this historic vaccination drive. While the first priority is reaching the over-80s through dedicated hospital hubs, NHS chief Simon Stevens told a press conference in early December that community pharmacies would be invited to start providing jabs “probably from the beginning of January”.
However, the storage requirements for the Pfizer vaccine and the need to administer jabs on an industrial scale in the first phase of the programme – vaccination sites need to be able to deliver at least 1,000 doses a week – mean that for now only a handful of pharmacies will be directly involved.
Putting it bluntly, PSNC chief Simon Dukes said the logistics for the Pfizer vaccine rollout “read like something from a sci-fi film”, adding that “there is simply no way that most pharmacies will be able to turn their retail areas into a vaccination clinic that sees practically 200 people per day and also allows them to stay safely socially distanced”.
Mr Dukes also stressed the importance of delivering flu vaccines to people in the 50-64 age group – another key priority for the health service this winter and one that adds to many logistical considerations.
Pharmacies are encouraged to work with their local primary care networks to help achieve maximum uptake of the Covid-19 vaccine, and teams can also assist at their local mass vaccination site. Collaborating in this way may help bring about an end to the competition culture between pharmacies and GPs that rears its head every flu season, Mr Dukes argued.
Importantly, once vaccines with less stringent storage criteria are available, pharmacies could play a much bigger role in the programme. The sector “must be ready to jump in with a proposal” at the earliest sign, said Mr Dukes.
Vaccinating pharmacy teams
Meanwhile, the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) has highlighted the importance of vaccinating community pharmacy teams at the same time as other healthcare workers.
“Safety is absolutely our number one priority, both for patients and for those administrating the vaccine,” said RPS president Sandra Gidley. “Pharmacists and their teams have been caring for the public and exposing themselves to the virus all through the pandemic, so it’s only fair that they are protected with this vaccine and continue to receive all forms of protective equipment.”
She also called for assurances that the programme “will not disrupt our already stretched workforce but make way for greater collaboration between health professionals and minimise the impact on routine practice”.