Salim Jetha, superintendent pharmacist and owner at Lewis Grove Pharmacy in Lewisham, tells Carolyn Scott about his experience of offering the polio vaccine.

Service type: Polio vaccination for children

Name and location of pharmacy: Lewis Grove Pharmacy, Lewisham, London

Name of superintendent pharmacist: Salim Jetha

Why did you start offering this service?

We were the only pharmacy site in Lewisham accredited to offer Covid (5-12 yrs) vaccinations, and when polio vaccination came along all the 5-year-plus Covid vaccination sites were eligible to offer the polio service as well based on that experience and capability. We’ve run polio sessions on Sundays, over 5 hours from 9am-2pm, which has been really good. The pharmacy is otherwise closed, and so it’s just the children and parents attending, which is ideal for safeguarding. In October, we vaccinated over 450 children which has delighted local commissioners and we have asked to roll over the programme into November.

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

We’ve had the usual training for working with children and then undergone an addition e-learning package for polio. We’ve worked closely with Lewisham NHS, who have been very supportive.

In a nutshell, what does the service involve?

We have four vaccinators at each session, plus a receptionist, which helps to reduce the waiting time and to keep children’s anxiety to a minimum. Children do take quite a lot longer to vaccinate than adults. We’ve made our vaccination area child-friendly with pictures of animals and the like and we give them stickers, just to make them feel a bit good. Some children do get a bit frightened from having had vaccinations before, but others are really brave and well prepared by their parents as to why they are there and what the vaccine is for, which makes it easier.

Of course, we do all the distraction techniques - talking to them; and making sure we don’t draw up the syringe in front of them. Despite this, some will get upset (usually beforehand I've seen, rather than after the injection) and it can make the other children waiting outside more nervous. I did notice though that when one child came in with headphones and iPad, she was so engrossed that she didn’t notice a thing – it was so smooth.

The IT system is not as user friendly as for flu and Covid, so we usually take the details and record it later, otherwise waiting times would increase and the queues build up. Unlike the Covid system, parents are asked to phone the pharmacy to book, and others walk in – so it’s quite difficult to assess numbers on the day in advance.

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

No, only if someone wants paracetamol or similar, as the rest of the pharmacy is closed.

How have patients responded to the service?

It’s been popular, and the number of people who have attended tells the story really. I think that parents have liked the Sunday opening, and I’ve heard that our waiting time is favourable compared to other sites in the area, and word of a good experience has spread quickly around local parent networks. The level of uncertainty among parents is less than with Covid - they are happy the vaccine has an established track record, and most are happy to go ahead.

Roughly how often do you carry out the service?

We’ve run the sessions for four Sundays in a row, and the local GPs and hospitals are also offering it. Of course, all these three pillars have winter pressures so demand may continue for us. It’s possible that we may be asked to get involved in offering vaccination for under 5s as well.

How much do you charge for the service?

The service is funded by the NHS.

Would you recommend offering this service to other contractors?

This service demonstrates that pharmacy can provide child vaccinations if required. We have proved ourselves in flu and in Covid, and now in child vaccinations, too.

Overall, it’s been a very enjoyable experience. The only negative is that it doesn’t quite stack up financially, because children take two or three times longer to vaccinate. Also, having the same payment rate as GPs doesn’t really add up like for like, as GPs and hospitals have many of their costs already covered by the NHS, while pharmacies do not. I also worry that pharmacy seems to only be brought in at a late stage, as a stopgap, for services like this, which doesn’t help with planning.

On the positive side, the service helps to open up thinking that pharmacies could be a source for children’s vaccinations in the future. I think pharmacy is in a good position to do this, and I often get asked why we aren’t also giving children’s (nasal) flu vaccine. I say I can’t answer that, as it’s restricted to general practice only.