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Coronavirus: Government urged to use pharmacies to give vaccine

Simon Jack
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The pharmacy industry is urging the government to use its high street network to accelerate the delivery of the newly approved vaccine.

The head of a leading pharmaceutical chain told the BBC roll out could be doubled if the government used the same supply chain as seasonal flu jabs.

There are over 11,000 local pharmacies around the UK.

The Department of Health told the BBC it was having "very positive discussions" with pharmacists.

A large number of pharmacies have the staff and expertise available to deliver the new vaccine.

So far, the industry has told the BBC the government has not considered them in its initial front line plans, nor counted them towards its delivery target of one million a week.

'Overcoming hurdles'

Simon Dukes, the chief executive of the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee, which represents NHS pharmacies, said his members were ready to help.

The approval of a second vaccine, and one that has less complex handling characteristics when compared with 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."

The London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine has insisted that two million a week is needed to get ahead of the spread.

There are other advantages to using local pharmacies. Many vulnerable people already visit their pharmacies on a regular basis and trust the staff there. As one pharmacy chief told the BBC: "People will trust their local chemist more than someone in a military uniform."

'Haven't thought of us'

The new vaccine is considered a very different proposition to the Pfizer vaccine - which has to be stored at -70C, comes in batches of 975 doses and must be delivered within a few days of delivery.

The more transport and storage friendly AZ/Oxford vaccine has turned "a medical challenge into a logistics challenge which we can help with" according to the head of a leading chain.

"The government knows we are here, but so far haven't thought of us as a primary point of delivery in the way they do the traditional annual flu jab".

The Department of Health said it had been talking to pharmacists about how they could support the Covid vaccine delivery plan.

It added: "They have been fantastic through this pandemic."

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