Community pharmacies should play a 'significant role' in the Covid booster vaccine delivery plan, pharmacy bodies have said.

Plans for this autumn’s booster jab programme will be released over the next few weeks, the health secretary announced yesterday (21 June), as the country prepares to vaccinate the elderly again as early as September.

Health officials have said the booster vaccine may be delivered alongside the flu programme.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Professor Anthony Harnden, deputy chairman of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), said: 'We need to think about various vaccines and we need to think about age groups, and we need to think about mixing with flu vaccines.'

Alastair Buxton, PSNC director of NHS Services, said that the Government should use pharmacies to deliver the booster jab so that GPs have time to deal with the backlog of patients that has built up during the pandemic.

‘Community pharmacies are ideally placed to play a significant role in the Covid-19 vaccination booster programme, particularly given their incredible track record on flu vaccinations and the work of the 600+ pharmacies already administering Covid-19 vaccines,’ he said.

‘This is an ideal opportunity for the Government and the NHS to utilise the sector's skills whilst at the same time freeing up GPs to focus on catching up with the backlog of care which has resulted from the pandemic.’

This comes as peer-reviewed research by Aston University suggested that community pharmacies could be key players in an annual rollout of the vaccine.

Andrew Lane, the National Pharmacy Association (NPA) chair told the Pharmacist that when mass Covid vaccination centres close, [and?] GPs are forced to focus on clearing the backlog of care, ‘community pharmacies will be an obvious solution for maintaining the population’s immunity to Covid’.

He said that pharmacies have ‘proven’ that they can run Covid and flu vaccine services and that the ‘end of lockdown won’t be the end of the story of our sector’s epic contribution.’

Leyla Hannbeck, chief executive officer at the Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies (AIMp), said that although not every community pharmacy will be able to deliver the Covid vaccine booster ‘the vast majority can’.

‘As part of the Covid booster vaccine plans the ministers must turn to those professionals who are willing and able to step up and assist, and who have a proven track record of cost-effectively delivering flu vaccines every winter: independent community pharmacists,’ she said.

‘That’s how combating Covid-19 should be tackled from now on and in the future. It should be the same as the flu jab, which is administered by a nationally commissioned service delivered by the majority of community pharmacies.

‘That way, GPs and others can return to administering vital healthcare, the system will not be feeling the strain so much, and Covid-19 will be defeated.’

The head of the Royal College of GPs (RCGP) has already said they will not be able to take a leading role in the booster jab delivery.

Speaking on Radio 4’s Today programme this morning (22 June), Professor Martin Marshall, chairman of the RCGP said GPs, should remain involved in the rollout, but that delivery needs to be ‘adequately resourced to allow us to do it well’.

‘We can't have GPs and practice nurses and pharmacists diverted away from normal business because we can’t afford to let our patients down on all the many other things that we do in general practice.’

Malcolm Harrison, chief executive of the Company Chemists' Association (CCA) is also calling on the NHS to put community pharmacy at the helm of the booster vaccine programme

‘Community pharmacies have a proven track record of safely providing the Covid vaccine to their local populations. We want to see the NHS build on this success and ensure that pharmacies can play a significant role in both the Covid and flu vaccination programmes this winter.

‘It is also critically important that the NHS enables community pharmacies to further support the NHS this winter by ensuring the number of CPCS referrals is significantly increased, helping both patients and GPs.’