Community pharmacies in Northern Ireland will join the Covid-19 vaccination programme from the end of this month, the health minister announced yesterday (18 March).

According to the Department of Hearth in Northern Ireland, over 300 pharmacies have signed up to be part of the scheme, which is due to begin on 30 March.

However, it is expected that many pharmacies will have started vaccinating before the end of March, the Department said.

It added that the new additional pharmacy-led vaccine sites will ‘compliment’ the work of GP practices across the country and the new mass vaccination centre at the SSE Arena in Belfast, which is also scheduled to open at the end of March.

Robin Swann, health minister, said he was ‘delighted’ at the development and that it was yet another step in ‘the drive to protect people from coronavirus’.

‘Community pharmacists are an integral part of the health and social care family. Their contribution to getting as many people vaccinated as possible will be invaluable,’ he added.

Gerard Greene, the chief executive of Community Pharmacy NI said the move was ‘fantastic and a step forward’.

He added: ‘The accessibility and reach of the community pharmacy network, with pharmacists as skilled vaccinators, means they are well equipped to take part in the vaccine programme and further contribute to the pandemic response.

‘Throughout the pandemic, the community pharmacy workforce has gone above and beyond to support patients across Northern Ireland. This latest example shows our pharmacists collaborating to ensure a smooth and safe vaccine programme to protect the public. This should be commended.’

‘Tremendous response of community pharmacy’

Joe Brogan, head of pharmacy and medicines management at the Health and Social Care Board, said: ‘The Covid vaccination campaign is one of the ways that we as a society will move forward.

‘It is vital that our population has every opportunity to access this service and it’s fantastic to have over 300 further points where people can book an appointment for a vaccine at a time and

a place that suits them. I wish to recognise the tremendous response of community pharmacy teams in supporting the response to Covid and our pathway out of the pandemic.

Cathy Harrison, Northern Ireland’s chief pharmaceutical officer, said: ‘Community pharmacies are the most accessible healthcare service for the public and their involvement in the Covid-19 vaccination programme will build on the success of their role in Northern Ireland’s 2020/21 winter flu vaccination.

‘I want to thank all the pharmacy staff involved and representatives of the community pharmacy sector for their support in bringing this plan to fruition.

According to the Department of Health, there have been over 700,000 doses of the Covid-19 vaccine administered as of yesterday (17 March).