Carianne Stokes, superintendent pharmacist at three Poolearth Pharmacy branches in Plymouth, talks to Saša Janković about running a Covid vaccination clinic.

Service type: Covid vaccination clinic

Name and location of pharmacy: Poolearth, Plymouth and Torquay, Devon

Name of superintendent pharmacist: Carianne Stokes

When did you start offering this service?

January 2020

Why did you start offering this service?

For me it was a historic opportunity to be part of the vaccination programme. I really wanted to be involved at any level, and although at the start we didn’t know what we were signing up for in terms of the length of the program, as things evolved and contracts came out it became much clearer, and now we’ve got bookings right through to September.

What, if any, training did you or other team members have to undergo?

We are operating under the national protocol which allows us to be able to upskill some of our more experienced pharmacy technicians to deliver the vaccines, and they’ve undergone national vaccination training alongside basic life support, anaphylaxis training, and first aid management.

We've also recruited admin staff specifically for the vaccination program, who have been trained in first aid, basic life support and anaphylaxis management, in order to have as many trained people on site as possible. They’ve all been fantastic and got on board.

Our other pharmacists and I do the clinical screening as well as vaccinating, but it’s a real first to be able to use techs in this role as well. Fingers crossed they will also be able to transfer those skills on to future flu vaccinations.

In a nutshell, what does the service involve?

It runs as you’d expect, although we’ve had to move sites during the process, and I think we may be the first vaccination centre in the country that’s had to do that mid-program. When we started in January we were at a local cricket club, contracted through our Devonport branch, but come April the club needed it back to restart cricket, so we moved to the nearby rugby club.

This turned out to be a bonus because it has more space so we can run two clinics at the same time – one for the Oxford AstraZeneca jabs and another for Pfizer. This is great because we are now moving into vaccinating the younger age groups, so we are doing more Pfizer jabs for this cohort.

However, we’ve definitely seen that uptake in the lower age cohorts is not as high as it should be, and there’s been lots of people booking slots but not showing up for them.

Are there any opportunities to sell OTC or prescription products during or after the consultation?

No, but it does give us is the chance for meaningful interactions with people – particularly at the start when we were able to provide emotional support to people who had been isolated for so long.

In the early stages of the clinic I was running through the screening questions with one elderly lady who broke down in tears saying her husband was in Derriford Hospital in Plymouth after having a massive stroke. She hadn’t seen him at all, didn’t know if he would survive, and was on her own with no family. I realised she just needed to talk to someone so I was able to spend some time with her, and when she came back for her second jab she was with her husband, and I recognised her straight away. It was so amazing to see her again and get to see the happy end of the story.

How have patients responded to the service?

We've had really good reviews consistently. Because we are on smaller scale than the PCN sites, which are huge, we have a lot of positive patient feedback that they feel it’s been a more personal experience, and that they’ve not had to wait so long in clinic. We are lucky to have good parking and accessibility on site, which makes a huge difference, and all our staff are professional, friendly and approachable, from stewarding people arriving in the carpark all the way through to being vaccinated.

Roughly how often each month do you carry out the service?

We’ve done 30,000 vaccinations so far, and have about another 7,000 bookings until September, when we will have aimed to complete the initial vaccination rollout. Then we’ll be looking ahead at boosters and flu.

Would you recommend offering this service to other contractors?

Yes; it’s been a pleasure and a privilege. With PCN vaccination sites closing down, a lot more pharmacies have got involved recently, and we've definitely learned masses in terms of managing bookings, and about the process of delivering vaccines on this kind of scale. My message for community pharmacy as a whole is that we have a vital role to back and promote the Covid vaccination programme, talk to patients, encourage it and dispel a lot of the misconceptions flying around.

Read more case studies on vaccination services here.