More pharmacies should be utilised in the rollout of the Covid-19 vaccine, the former Labour prime minister Tony Blair told news viewers yesterday (3 January).

Speaking on Sky News, Mr Blair said the UK could ‘vaccinate the entire population in a matter of weeks’ if all services - including more pharmacies - were used.

As it stands, NHS England has only announced plans to commission a limited number of pharmacy-led vaccination sites, as it does not expect the majority of contractors to be able to meet the necessary requirements.

Pharmacy contractors are also currently able to participate by supporting PCN and hospital sites.

The former prime minister’s comments follow the publication of a set of recommendations to ‘dramatically accelerate the vaccination programme’ by the Tony Blair Institute.

The document - A Plan for Vaccine Acceleration - published yesterday (3 January) suggested ‘expanding vaccination to all pharmacies, regardless of their size’ by removing the weekly ‘1,000 doses’ threshold so more could get involved in the programme.

‘Lowering the threshold would increase the number able to provide vaccines. Even 50% of community pharmacies at 100 vaccines a week would add 550,000 extra doses a week to capacity,’ the document said.

Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine rollout

This comes as the first patients received the Oxford University/AstraZeneca jab in UK hospitals today (4 January) after the MHRA authorised the vaccine for use last week (30 December).

The UK Government has pre-ordered 100 million doses of the Oxford vaccine, the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) has said, with ‘more than half a million’ available from today.

The Government’s announcement has also sparked fresh calls from pharmacy bodies to make more use of community pharmacy teams to help deliver the Covid vaccination programme.

Alistair Buxton, PSNC’s director of services, said: '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.’

A spokesperson for the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) said: ‘Now community pharmacists all over the country will be able to provide the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine directly to patients. One of the major benefits of the new vaccine is that it can be kept in a normal fridge, so it’s much easier to distribute and store in pharmacies. We want the NHS across the UK to work with pharmacy to make this happen.’

They added: ‘Pharmacists are skilled in vaccination, having provided flu jabs and travel vaccines for years. This means the NHS has a ready-made workforce waiting to play its part to scale up the Covid vaccination programme and speed up delivery of the vaccine to at-risk groups.

Malcolm Harrison, CEO of the Company Chemists’ Association (CCA) called on the NHS to make ‘full use’ of community pharmacies in rolling out the Oxford AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine.

‘Community pharmacies have been something of a ‘secret weapon’ during the pandemic, keeping their doors open throughout to serve their communities. In England, they have already administered more than 1.7 flu million vaccines in the first two months of this year’s flu season, equalling the number they delivered across the whole of last winter.

‘As a result, community pharmacy teams have a track record of safely administering vaccine programmes at pace and at scale. Given that the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine requires similar storage to several other vaccines already provided by community pharmacies, our teams are well placed to administer it.'

He added: 'We estimate that community pharmacies could administer up to half a million Covid vaccines a week.'

When asked whether NHS England and Improvement was considering involving more pharmacies in the rollout, an NHSE spokesperson told the Pharmacist that 'community pharmacies are already a key part of rolling out the vaccination through existing sites and pharmacy-led sites will begin vaccinating in the coming days and weeks.'