The Pharmacists Defence Association (PDA) launches “A Thousand Little Ships”, a proposal to maximise the NHS vaccination capacity when demand dramatically increases once the second doses begin.
Over 10 million people have received their first Covid-19 vaccination as part of the national programme, this has been achieved through a herculean effort by the NHS, and a repurposing of workforce and physical spaces to meet the challenging deadline of all priority groups being vaccinated by mid-February in the race against the virus.
The PDA is urging the government and NHS to integrate over 13,500 community pharmacies into the vaccination programme to ensure that there is capacity in the system when more groups are needing to be vaccinated as prioritised by the JCVI.
While some larger pharmacies can provide a very high volume of vaccines to the public and are included in the current programme, the PDA say that the contribution of smaller high street and neighbourhood pharmacies should not be underestimated. Using the analogy of the thousand little ships, which played such an instrumental role in the Dunkirk evacuation during WW2, the combined contribution of many smaller pharmacies could be highly effective as well as providing choice and convenience of where they receive their vaccination.
Mark Koziol, Chairman of the PDA said, “In a matter of weeks the programme will need to give the critical second doses of the vaccine while continuing to provide first doses to millions more who have yet to have one. Unless capacity is significantly increased this could slow down progress, but by enabling large numbers of smaller community pharmacies to provide second doses, the public could get their vaccinations sooner”.
Trusted scientists and health professionals available on the high street
The Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) has recently warned that the low uptake of the Covid-19 vaccine among some minority groups poses a ‘significant risk’ to the vaccine drive. The ethnicity sub-group of SAGE highlighted that: “community engagement is essential as health messages and vaccine distribution strategies must be sensitive to local communities. Community forums should include engagement with trusted sources such as healthcare workers, in particular GPs, and scientists from within the target community to respond to concerns about vaccine safety and efficacy”.
Community pharmacists are both scientists and respected health professionals in local communities, and many are from the BAME population too. They are trusted to provide flu vaccinations and have a unique opportunity to talk to people in their communities about the importance of the Covid-19 vaccine and dispel misinformation.
A dedicated second pharmacist is essential
In the PDA proposal, just as in the GP practice setting, the public would expect the wider community pharmacy service to continue as normal and be delivered safely with full-time access to the community pharmacist to discuss their wider healthcare and medicines issues at any time.
Mr Koziol concluded: “To protect the integrity and safety of the existing community pharmacy service, a dedicated second pharmacist is essential to deliver the Covid-19 vaccination programme”.