Life-saving coronavirus jabs began being delivered at High Street pharmacies across the UK from this week as the National Health Service (NHS) accelerated its biggest vaccination programme in history.
UK pharmacy chains such as Boots and Superdrug and several independent stores will be the first of hundreds of community pharmacies to offer vaccinations protecting against Covid-19 as part of a pilot, which is expected to be expanded over the coming weeks. Two hundred community pharmacies are due to come online over the next fortnight as more vaccine supplies of the Pfizer/BioNTech and Oxford/AstraZeneca jabs come on stream by the end of the month.
UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: “It is fantastic that high-street pharmacies will now begin deploying Covid-19 vaccinations. Pharmacies sit at the heart of local communities and will make a big difference to our rollout programme by providing even more local, convenient places for those that are eligible to get their jab.
“Pharmacists have worked tirelessly throughout the pandemic, often acting as the first port of call for medical advice – and often staying open when all around have closed.”
As part of a government pledge to cover millions of over-70s and frontline workers by mid-February in a sped-up vaccination drive to lift the country out of lockdowns, jabs are now being offered at more than 200 hospitals sites along with around 800 GP-led services, with another 200 GP-run sites coming online this week. Seven large-scale mass vaccination centres opened this week, one in each NHS region, with dozens more to follow in the coming weeks.
UK Vaccines Minister Nadhim Zahawi said: “Staff across the NHS have pulled out all the stops to help ramp up vaccinations and are working day and night to keep people safe. Pharmacies play a vital role in caring for the nation and I am really pleased to see them coming on stream to help with the national vaccine roll-out effort.”
The NHS said that stores capable of delivering large volumes while allowing for social distancing are initially being selected to give the best geographical spread. The advice is that anyone in the eligible highest risk groups who does not want to travel there or to a large-scale vaccination centre can wait to be called forward by their local general practice (GP) or hospital services by February 15. If that is the case, or if they have received the vaccination through another route since an NHS invitation went out, they do not need to do anything.
“The NHS coronavirus vaccination programme, the biggest in health service history, has got off to a great start with more than 2.4 million jabs delivered. Pharmacy teams have been working incredibly hard throughout the pandemic and, as we accelerate the vaccination programme, they are playing a vital role in delivering the life-saving jabs to those in their communities,” said Dr Bruce Warner, Deputy Chief Pharmaceutical Officer for the NHS.
As their local pharmacies receive supplies, people invited to make an appointment through the new national booking service will be given a choice between a vaccination centre or a pharmacy service.
“Our pharmacists are experts in vaccination programmes and have a trusted role at the heart of our local communities. Pharmacies are extremely well placed to support the roll out of this vaccine quickly and safely,” said Seb James, Managing Director of Boots UK.
The Oxford vaccine has now been rolled out to GP-led services and is also easier to transport and get to care home residents. NHS and social care staff are also being prioritised now that more vaccines are coming on stream. The top priority groups for the vaccination programme have been set by the government following advice from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI).