Welsh health boards have commissioned only 18 of the 713 community pharmacies in Wales to deliver the Covid vaccine, despite calls to boost the sector’s involvement.

Four of the seven health boards – Swansea Bay, Betsi Cadwaladr, Aneurin Bevan and Cardiff – have commissioned pharmacies to participate in the programme so far.

Swansea Bay University Health Board told the Pharmacist yesterday (25 March) it has now commissioned three community pharmacies.

Dorothy Edwards, Covid-19 vaccination programme director for Swansea Bay University Health Board said: ‘We’re delighted that three community pharmacies in the Swansea area will shortly begin giving the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine under a pilot scheme and strictly by appointment only.

‘These pharmacies are a very important extension of our current vaccination programme and will initially provide vital coverage for people in group 6 living in areas where GPs are not vaccinating that cohort.

She added: ‘We hope additional pharmacies will be able to join the programme very soon.’

Cardiff and Vale University Health Board has also commissioned three community pharmacies to help deliver the Covid vaccine from April as part of a pilot phase, a spokesperson confirmed.

The spokesperson added: ‘We have identified further community pharmacies that we can utilise for support and will review this as we move through the programme.’

Meanwhile, Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board has commissioned eight community pharmacies so far, following a successful Covid vaccine pilot in January, and Aneurin Bevan University Health Board has commissioned four.

The Pharmacist understands that two of the remaining three health boards are yet to commission any pharmacies in their area.

A spokesperson for Cwm Taf Morgannwg University Health Board confirmed no pharmacies have been commissioned ‘at the moment’. The Health Board previously told the Pharmacist that almost half of all community pharmacies in its area had submitted expressions of interest.

A spokesperson for Hywel Dda University Health Board said it had not asked pharmacies to submit expressions of interest yet as the board is planning to bring them on board for cohort 10, which will be in the second phase of the vaccination programme.

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

‘Disappointingly low’ numbers

A Community Pharmacy Wales spokesperson told the Pharmacist that the number of community pharmacies commissioned ‘remains disappointingly low, despite reassurances from Welsh Government we would and should be integral to rolling out the programme’.

‘With the completion of the first nine out of ten vaccine cohorts now in sight, the community pharmacy network is feeling increasingly frustrated and underused,’ the spokesperson said.

‘We delivered 12% of all flu vaccines in Wales over the last six months, demonstrating we have the skills and the appetite to be more fully involved.’

Last week, Welsh health minister Vaughan Gething said he hoped to see community pharmacy involvement in the vaccine programme ‘increasing over the next few weeks’.

In the same announcement, Mr Gething said that pharmacies in Wales would receive an additional £3.5m in funding to cover costs the sector has incurred during the pandemic.

As part of its updated Covid vaccine strategy published earlier this week (23 March), the Welsh Government said it will be increasing its use of ‘other key resources, such as community pharmacy, to provide another route of delivery moving forward’.

‘Reassessing the use of existing venues will also be important as society begins to open up and some buildings, such as leisure centres, will need to be returned to the intended purpose,’ it added.