Pharmacists will have an ‘important role to play’ in delivering the Covid-19 vaccination programme, which could start from as early as next month, the health secretary told radio listeners on Tuesday (10 November).

This comes after Pfizer announced its Covid-19 vaccine candidate is ‘90%’ effective and could be ready ‘by the end of the year’.

Speaking on Radio 4’s Today programme, Matt Hancock said pharmacists will work alongside GPs – who will have a ‘major role’ to play – to deliver the programme, for which the Government has secured 10 million does so far.

He said: ‘The NHS will be working 7 days a week, into the evenings and into the bank holidays to get this rolled out.

‘I’ve also ensured an extra £150 million is allocated to GP’s to support them through the winter’.

The health secretary did not mention any additional funding for pharmacy.

‘A critical programme’

The direct enhanced service (DES), which was agreed last week by the BMA and NHS England and Improvement, outlines plans for general practice to lead the delivery of the Covid vaccination programme.

The document said that local pharmacies ‘may be commissioned’ to vaccinate where general practice coverage is not enough.

PSNC has said it is pushing for pharmacies to have parity with the service commissioned in general practice.

The body has entered ‘urgent negotiations’ with the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) and NHS England and Improvement (NHSE&I) about the role that the community pharmacy sector can play in the programme.

It added that community pharmacy should have a ‘central role’ in the deployment of Covid-19 treatment, after the sector has played such a crucial role in the response to the pandemic so far.

Alastair Buxton, PSNC director of NHS Services, said he was ‘pleased’ that community pharmacy has the opportunity to be a part of the programme.

‘This is a critical programme for the NHS and the nation, and it is right that pharmacies, with their outstanding track-record in vaccination provision, are involved in that,’ he said.

‘The scale of this vaccination plan is unprecedented, and the practicalities of delivery will be complex, so it will undoubtedly require us to build on the collaborative approach that we already take with other services such as flu vaccinations.'

He also noted that not all pharmacies will be able to offer Covid-19 vaccinations ‘due to the practical requirements for service provision at scale’.

‘Parity of access’

Sandra Gidley, president of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS), also pointed to pharmacy’s track record of delivering vaccination programmes and said the sector ‘must be involved’.

She said: ‘We recognise the impact this could have on teams already stretched to capacity, but through collaboration with primary care colleagues we can help ensure an agile and flexible approach to vaccine provision across the country.

Ms Gidley added that it is essential for pharmacy teams to have ‘parity of access’ to the vaccination, alongside other colleagues in the NHS.

‘Pharmacy has played a central role in the pandemic and experienced enormous pressures on the frontline patient care, staying open throughout to provide medicines and advice. It’s vital staff are in the first wave of those vaccinated to ensure the wellbeing of the workforce,’ she said.

According to the DHSC, pharmacy teams may be third in line - along with other health and care staff - to receive the vaccine, aftercare home residents and staff, and people over the age of 80.

However, this is only interim advice from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) and is subject to change as more information becomes available, the Government explained.

Back in November, the chair of the UK vaccine taskforce confirmed that the UK may be able to launch a Covid vaccination campaign before the end of the year.