Welsh Health Boards have so far only commissioned a very limited number of pharmacies to deliver the Covid vaccine, despite calls for wider involvement of the sector.

This comes after the seven Welsh Health Boards invited pharmacies in December to submit expressions of interest in providing the Oxford/Astrazeneca vaccine as part of the vaccination programme in Wales.

Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board - which previously commissioned pharmacies to run a Covid vaccine pilot back in January - told the Pharmacist it had commissioned a total of four community pharmacies in north Wales to deliver the vaccine, out of 81 which had shown interest.

A spokesperson for Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board said: ‘A small number of community pharmacies have already begun offering Covid-19 vaccinations. Plans to increase the rollout of vaccinations via pharmacies across north Wales are being actively explored by the vaccination coordinators and we anticipate expanding the number of pharmacies providing the service by the end of March.’

Aneurin Bevan University Health Board also told the Pharmacist it was hoping to commission five community pharmacies to provide the service, out of 53 which expressed interest.

‘The proposed start date for the first two pharmacies is 15 March, and the remaining three pharmacies will plan to commence the service from 12 April,’ a spokesperson for the Health Board added.

Community Pharmacy Wales (CPW) has pushed for the health boards to commission pharmacies at a faster rate, with chair Mark Griffiths warning in the Senedd last month (4 February) that they needed to act with ‘urgency and pace’.

However a spokesperson for CPW indicated to the Pharmacist today (2 March) that it is now ‘more confident’ of a greater role for pharmacy in the vaccine rollout.

The CPW spokesperson said: ‘Community Pharmacy Wales until now has remained concerned about the very low level of commissioning for community pharmacies by Local Health Boards in Wales to participate in the Covid vaccination programme.

‘However, in recent days we feel more confident of an imminent signal of more widespread involvement, and will issue a statement when the shape and scale of the network’s deployment is clear.’

Other five health boards

The remaining five health boards are in varying stages of commissioning pharmacies to join the programme, the Pharmacist has learned.

A spokesperson for Cardiff and Vale University Health Board said it had not yet commissioned any community pharmacies to vaccinate the public against Covid due to the ‘supply and the logistical complexities of the programme’.

However, they added: ‘we have identified a number of community pharmacies that we could utilise to support in the delivery of the service as we move towards the Spring’.

Information supplied by the Cardiff and Vale University Health Board showed that over 40 of the 106 community pharmacy sites within the area have expressed an interest in participating in the Covid vaccination programme.

Similarly, Swansea Bay University Health Board told the Pharmacist it had not commissioned any pharmacy-led sites to deliver the programme so far.

However, Dorothy Edwards, sirector of the Covid-19 Vaccination Programme for Swansea Bay said that ‘more than 50 have expressed an interest and we are intending to finalise recommendations on commissioning later this week’.

Cwm Taf Morgannwg University Health Board said almost half of all the community pharmacies in the area had submitted expressions of interest, but the Board did not confirm how many have been commissioned so far.

‘Cwm Taf Morgannwg University Health Board is very pleased that there is a good level of interest and support from community pharmacy contractors and we are currently considering this in our forward plans,’ a spokesperson for the Health Board said.

When approached by the Pharmacist, Hywel Dda University Health Board said it was 'not in a position to respond at this stage’.

A spokesperson added that the Health Board would be announcing any arrangements for community pharmacy involvement in the programme on its news webpage.

Powys Teaching Health Board did not respond to a request for comment.

During a press briefing in January, Wales’ first minister Mark Drakeford said that only a limited number of pharmacies in Wales would be commissioned to deliver the vaccine due to the logistics surrounding the size of many pharmacies.

He added that some community pharmacists could instead administer vaccinations at mass vaccination centres – in cases where pharmacies are too small to store the correct number of vaccines and allow for social distancing.