Three pharmacies in northern Scotland have been the first to join the country's vaccination effort after local GP surgeries opted out of vaccinating younger cohorts.
The Pharmacist spoke to two of the three pharmacies — both based in the Highlands — who began vaccinating the public in April and May, and have since vaccinated hundreds of local people.
Both pharmacies have been overwhelmed by the positive response from patients, who were concerned about how they would have accessed the vaccine if the pharmacies had not been there.
Right Medicine Pharmacy in Kyle of Lochalsh was asked by NHS Highland to start delivering vaccines to the local population of under 50s back in April, after the local surgery refused to deliver vaccines to the younger cohorts, the pharmacy manager, Gill Harrington said.
According to Ms Harrington, the pharmacy administers vaccines at a rate of one vaccine every five minutes up to three days a week, and will deliver 1,200 vaccines by the end of summer.
Ms Harrington said that if the pharmacy was not offering the vaccine, some local people would have to travel up to 70 miles to reach the nearest vaccine centre.
‘We have opened up all-day on Sundays, when we would usually be closed, to ensure people who have gone back to work during the week can get vaccinated,’ she explained.
The pharmacy itself covers a 25-mile radius which contains no local transport measures, meaning some people can struggle to reach the pharmacy for a certain time.
‘To make sure we are flexible and can vaccinate as many people as possible, I'm also vaccinating on my other days off, but I love it,’ she said.
Ms Harrington said the pharmacy previously used the national booking system to sort out appointments, however, it came across issues with the service when people reported not receiving letters or were being sent to the pharmacy at the wrong time.
Now the pharmacy uses its own booking system, which has meant they can fit in and vaccinate more people on each given day.
She said that the patient response to the pharmacy offering vaccines has been ‘amazing’.
‘Everybody has been very keen to have their vaccine, I have even had lots of people in tears. They were so excited as they weren’t sure how they were going to get their vaccine before we opened,’ she said.
‘I’ve worked here for 33 years now, and I am seeing young people come in for their vaccines who I haven’t seen in 20 years which has also been nice.’
Fort Augustus Pharmacy, based in Fort Augustus, has been vaccinating the local population since the local GP similarly opted out of vaccinating the under ’50s due to ‘workload pressures,’ pharmacy manager Harris Georgitsis said.
The pharmacy has been offering the vaccine since the beginning of May and has since vaccinated over 200 patients.
‘We vaccinate between 12 to 30 patients per day, but we have recently been fitting even more people in,' Mr Georgitsis told the Pharmacist.
‘If we were not there to help out and vaccinate, people would have to travel to the big vaccination centres which are quite far away — it is just more practical to vaccinate people in the village.’
Patients have been ‘very happy’ and ‘appreciative of the fact they do not have to travel far,’ he added.
Mr Georgitsis said that he did not want to brag about the service and instead insisted he was ‘just doing his job’ and that it was the ‘least he could do’.
‘The quicker we have this sorted the better, then we can go back to normal,’ he added.
The final pharmacy that is involved in the vaccine rollout, Great Glen Pharmacy in Drumnadrochit, did not respond in time for publication.
Health boards in Scotland have been able to agree local arrangements with pharmacy contractors in their areas for the delivery of the Covid-19 vaccination programme, following an agreement between the Scottish Government and Community Pharmacy Scotland (CPS) late last year.
The agreement, set out in a circular in November 2020, explained that community pharmacies would ‘not be the default delivery channel for Covid-19 vaccination’, but said that they ‘are asked to support the programme by providing vaccinations by agreement’.