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High street pharmacies will start to offer shots of the Oxford/AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine next week as part of the government’s push to immunise more than 13 million of the most vulnerable people in the UK before mid-February.
The news comes amid calls for the NHS to urgently expand the number of vaccination sites, with the British Medical Association urging every GP surgery in the country to join the vaccination effort amid soaring rates of infection and record numbers of Covid patients in hospital.
A quarter of deaths registered in England and Wales in the week before Christmas were Covid related, the highest weekly proportion since mid-May. Of a total of 11,520 deaths registered across England and Wales in the week to 25 December, 2,912 (25.3%) mentioned Covid-19 on the death certificate, bringing the total to 92,070 as of 5 January.
The pharmacies will offer shots of the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine either on their premises or at designated sites following an NHS approval process that began in November. The health service is assessing 200 sites led by community pharmacies such as Boots and Lloyds which have committed to delivering more than 1,000 shots each a week. The sites will start to receive doses now the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine has been approved.
“We are going to see pharmacies playing a really big role in vaccination,” said Robbie Turner, director of pharmacy at the Royal Pharmaceutical Society. “The numbers of shots that can be delivered will be significant compared with the total number being delivered from sites that are already in operation.”
It has been unclear whether and how high street pharmacies would be called on to aid the mass vaccination programme, with thousands ready and willing to help out. On Wednesday, the UK vaccine minister, Nadhim Zahawi, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that he would “make sure that community pharmacies and the independent sector are involved” in reaching the government’s target.
Boris Johnson has outlined a plan for 13.9 million vulnerable people to receive the first dose of a Covid vaccine by mid-February, including all over-70s, an ambition the chief medical officer for England, Prof Chris Whitty, called “realistic, but not easy”.
High street pharmacies are already heavily involved in rolling out flu and travel vaccinations and have the training and equipment to handle the new immunisations. All of the sites approved by the NHS have the means to store the AstraZeneca vaccine at 2C to 8C, while some will also be able to store the more fragile Pfizer vaccine at -70C.
Tens of community pharmacies are expected to join the vaccination programme in the coming weeks with more coming online as the vaccine supply improves.
Turner said the NHS rightly wanted to be confident that the pharmacies taking part would deliver the vaccine at scale. But he said smaller pharmacies should also be considered for the vaccination effort to ensure that doses are available to people in all communities.
“The impact of Covid is most acutely felt by people in disadvantaged communities and these pharmacies are at the heart of the community, often in some of some of the most deprived neighbourhoods,” Turner said. “If we’re going to reach the people we need to reach, we need to work out how we can use community pharmacies that are not necessarily able to deliver 1,000 vaccines a week, but can still offer tens of vaccines to the people in those communities.”
Pharmacists in hospitals and general practices are already involved in delivering the Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines. But there are more than 11,000 community pharmacies in England, 1,200 in Scotland, and 700 in Wales, many of which could join the effort. “We want to make sure we are preparing now so we can use as many of them as possible, as effectively as possible, as quickly as possible,” Turner said.
The British Medical Association called for every GP surgery in the country to join the vaccination effort. “There are about 8,000 GP surgeries in the UK. Any one of them that wants to be able to roll out the vaccines should be enabled to do so, in order to meet the government’s very ambitious target”, said Dr Richard Vautrey, the chair of the organisation’s GP committee.
Ruth Rankine, the primary care director at the NHS Confederation, said: “Providing that supply can be guaranteed, there is no reason why the system cannot eventually move to every GP practice in England delivering the vaccine for their patients in the highest priority groups, particularly given the easier transportation and storage requirements of the AstraZeneca/Oxford University vaccine.
“The NHS will do everything it can to immunise the population but if it is to meet the prime minister’s target of delivering doses to 13.9 million people in England by mid-February, we need more sites to come on-stream, an increased workforce, and a more certain supply chain.”
However, Vautrey stressed that GPs and their teams would not be able to vaccinate the huge numbers of people involved in meeting the target without restricting the other care they provide.
An NHS spokesperson said: “Pharmacies are already working with GPs to deliver the vaccine in many areas of the country. As more supply becomes available, community pharmacists able to administer large numbers of vaccine will play a role in the NHS’s phased vaccination programme, the biggest in the health service’s history.”
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: High street pharmacies to start offering Oxford Covid vaccine next week | Coronavirus