Pharmacists will be able to administer the Covid-19 vaccine to people in the UK once a vaccine is found, the health secretary has announced.

Yesterday (16 July) Matt Hancock said that he will be ‘expanding who can legally vaccinate’ to ensure technicians, nurses and pharmacists can administer the future Covid-19 vaccine.

Pharmacists in the UK will play a 'massive role' in the nationwide rollout of the vaccine, Mr Hancock said.

In response to whether pharmacy technicians will also be included in the expanded workforce who are able to administer vaccinations, a spokesperson from the Department of Health said they were still 'exploring options'.

'The details of the policy are still in development, but ensuring safety will be central to any proposal.'

‘Finding a vaccine’

Community pharmacists can already provide a number of vaccination services, including seasonal and pandemic influenza, travel vaccinations and Hepatitis B for certain groups.

This news comes amid hopes a vaccine will be ready by autumn, after encouraging early results from clinical trials from the UK and US were recently published.

However, Mr Hancock was quick to add that this is only a guess because finding a vaccine is a ‘very inexact science.’

The ‘best case scenario [for finding the vaccine] would be some time this year' but 'more likely next year', he said on Robert Peston’s ITV political interview show.

‘Key role for pharmacy’

Sandra Gidley, President of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS), told the Pharmacist she welcomed the announcement for the sector.

‘Pharmacy should be involved at the forefront of the planning and discussions of any national vaccination scheme,’ she said.

However, she added that ‘community pharmacies already provide NHS flu vaccinations in England and Wales’ and the RPS has ‘consistently stressed’ their potential to provide further patient access to other vaccines.

She said: ‘Any future decision of implementing a Covid-19 vaccination must be made using the clinical expertise, knowledge and accessibility of community pharmacists. Our profession can help

to reduce the demand for vaccine services elsewhere in the NHS, especially during the pandemic.’

‘Flu vaccination programme’

During a National Pharmacy Association (NPA) conference earlier this week (13 July), Mr Hancock announced that he wanted to ‘see pharmacies involved’ in the ‘the biggest flu vaccination programme in history’.

‘You have an incredibly important role to play’ he said. ‘Frankly, we’re going to need to use all of the capabilities that are at our disposal to deliver the vaccine programmes in the months ahead.’

The health secretary’s comments come as the government prepares for the possibility of both flu and Covid-19 co-circulating during the winter months.

A new report, published by the Academy for Medical Sciences, has warned that the government must prepare for a second spike of Covid-19. It suggests that the country should prioritise protecting itself from the ‘worst effects’ of flu by getting ‘people at risk, and health and care workers safely vaccinated’, in order to save lives and reduce the risk of the NHS being overwhelmed.

The Department of Health has not yet confirmed a widespread flu immunisation programme. However, last month it sent a letter to community pharmacies and general practices in England to say the government considerations for expanding the eligibility criteria for NHS-funded flu vaccinations were ‘underway’.

Currently, those who qualify for the NHS-funded flu vaccine include all children between two to 10 years old, those in clinically at-risk groups between the ages of six months and 65 years, pregnant women, people living in care homes, and all health and social care staff.