British community pharmacists are calling on the U.K. government to exploit their capacity and skills to vaccinate people against coronavirus after their offers of help have been met with silence.
“What on earth is stopping the National Health Service from mobilizing more pharmacies for this vital task?” asked Andrew Lane, chair of the National Pharmacy Association, which represents U.K. pharmacists.
Nadhim Zahawi, the minister running vaccine deployment, tweeted on Monday that the NHS aims to deliver 13.9 million doses by mid-February. The tweet came on the heels of Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s announcement that 13.2 million doses would be administered to the vulnerable and people over 70 by that time.
“Pharmacists want to help — they are already trained for giving vaccines, and people are crying out for convenient local access to the vaccine,” said Lane. “It’s surely a no-brainer that pharmacies should be supported to take part in this urgent national effort.”
Sandra Gidley, president of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society, told BBC’s Today program on Wednesday that there are over 11,000 community pharmacies in the U.K. If each one vaccinated 20 people a day, she said, “that’s 1.3 million a week of extra vaccines that could be provided and very often getting to those that are hardest to reach.”
With the BioNTech/Pfizer jab, she noted, only large pharmacies capable of delivering 950 doses a day can participate as the doses must all be used up once defrosted.
The Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine is a “game changer,” she added, since it comes in smaller units and requires a normal fridge for storage.
Zahawi, also appearing on the Today program, said the government’s intention is to bring community pharmacies on board.
“The NHS has a very clear plan for deploying the vaccine,” he said, noting 1.3 million doses have already been administered.
To date, hospital hubs and primary care networks have been offering the Pfizer jab to vulnerable people, those over 80 and within care homes, he said.
“Then we move onto, in a few days’ time, national vaccination centers,” he said. “These are big sports halls, stadiums and so on.” Community pharmacy networks, he added, would then “complement that.” This would include larger pharmacies as well as smaller ones once the effort is underway.
“You want to get more efficiency … at the sites that you already have,” he said. “[General practitioners] have been excellent at delivering the early batches.”
Pushed on when the government would reach its 300,000 a day target to hit more than 13 million vaccinations by mid-February, Zahawi declined to answer.
“My absolute focus is to get 13.9 million offered a vaccine by mid-February,” he said. “I’m confident the NHS has a plan and we will meet that target.”
British pharmacists: We’re on stand-by for speedy vaccine deployment The British Journal Editors and Wire Services/ Politico.