England’s community pharmacies will play an even bigger role in the Covid jab booster drive than in the current vaccination programme
While some questions remain unanswered as TM goes to press, it has emerged that the Government and NHS England want to deliver Covid vaccine booster doses between 6 September and 15 December. The co-administration of Covid-19 and flu vaccinations is being considered to maximise uptake and tackle the annual winter pressures on the NHS.
A two-stage plan
While much could change between now and September, health agencies are envisaging a two-stage programme targeting specific population groups.
Stage 1 would include those aged over 70 and elderly care home residents, frontline workers and immunosuppressed patients. Stage 2 would target over-50s as well as younger adults who are at increased risk from flu or Covid-19. As many younger adults will only receive their second vaccine dose in late summer, the benefits of booster vaccinations for this group will be appraised at a later date.
NHS England’s service specification is expected before the end of July, while final advice from the Joint Committee on Vaccinations and Immunisation should be published before September, taking into account the spread of Covid at that point and any emerging scientific data.
Meanwhile, NHS England says it wants to recruit up to 1,000 community pharmacy-led vaccination sites, up from the more than 600 that have participated in the current programme. This is to help relieve some of the pressure on general practice – which has delivered the majority of Covid vaccines to date – and to recognise the significant contribution pharmacies have made.
The news that pharmacies will play an enhanced role was welcomed by sector leaders, with RPS director of pharmacy Robbie Turner highlighting pharmacy’s strong track record in delivering vaccination programmes and calling for careful planning to protect “the vital roles that community pharmacists already play in medicines supply, providing advice, consultations and public health services”.
APTUK president Liz Fidler told TM that an appropriate use of skill mix will be “essential”and that pharmacy technicians will be crucial to “the long-term sustainability of this and other services”.
“The numbers requiring vaccination balanced with service provision means the case is even stronger for pharmacy technicians to be added to the list of healthcare professionals that can supply and administer medicines and medicinal products via a patient group direction,” said Ms Fidler. This greater responsibility could help “settle the supervision and legislation challenges once and for all”.