We urge him to deploy the country’s network of 11,000 pharmacies as front-line Covid vaccine centres as part of that.
Despite increasing warm words from Government in the past few days that they will expand the use of the very limited number of the 200 largest pharmacies it is essential that every single one is given a cast-iron assurance that they will be allowed to play their part.
With the minimum of red tape.
Local pharmacies are highly trusted by their communities – and are convenient to access. Where they do not all have the staff and facilities to provide the jab, the government should urgently provide this support.
Thousands of readers have expressed concern over vaccine arrangements – from the information they are being given about their own jab to the distance they will have to travel to receive it.
There are also worries about the time it will take to build makeshift centres.
But the authorisation – and deployment – of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine offers an opportunity for local pharmacies because it only requires one initial dose, the second coming up to 12 weeks later, and does not have to be stored at low temperatures to be effective.
And the advantages for both the Government – and local communities – appear to be so significant that they need to be taken further into account if 14 million are to be vaccinated by mid-February, the stated target.
There are 11,000 local pharmacies across Britain many of which have the capacity and are ready, willing and able to assist with this national effort. They have experience of vaccination programmes like winter flu jabs.
Pharmacists have the necessary qualifications – a crucial requirement – and their stores are accessible to most people. This would be a way of the Government signalling its support for high streets during the latest lockdown.
“There are over 11,000 pharmacies. If each of those does 20-a-day that is 1.3 million-a-week extra vaccines that can be provided, very often to those who are hardest to reach,” said Royal Pharmaceutical Society president Sandra Gidley. “Why would any government not want to do that?”
We agree – and we look forward to Health Secretary Matt Hancock showing far greater ambition, and urgency, than his initial promise last week to involve just 200 community outlets. As the Cabinet minister says himself, pharmacies “are highly engaged in their local community, often more local than any other healthcare setting”.
But we have one further request of the Government and that is to start providing far more easy-to-access information on the vaccine programme – and timetable – to provide families, particularly the elderly and clinically vulnerable, with the reassurance that they’ve not been forgotten.