‘They know the community’: why local pharmacies can be the answer to faster vaccine rollout

Dr Leyla Hannbeck, CEO of the Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies explains why she’s supporting JPI Media’s “A Shot in the Arm” campaign. 

Do you agree that pharmacies should be able to play a part in the vaccine rollout? Sign our petition 

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

With coronavirus cases and deaths at shocking levels across the UK, speedy rollout of vaccinations is now essential if lives are to be saved.

Despite delivering millions of flu vaccinations every year, local pharmacies have not yet been mobilised in the drive to get the population vaccinated.

That’s why JPI Media titles across England have joined forces to launch their ‘A Shot in the Arm campaign, calling on the Government to make use of the network of local pharmacies across the UK who are well-equipped to deliver the vaccine quickly and effectively. 

While six pharmacies have now been granted permission to deliver the vaccine, Dr Leyla Hannbeck, CEO of the Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies, believes the rollout needs to be extended:

“There are thousands of pharmacies across the country, in every community. 

“They’re accessible to patients who otherwise may not go out of their home because they don’t or can’t travel - or even if they’re sceptical about going to places where they don’t know the staff”.

The Government has thus far been reluctant to roll vaccines out this way, she says, for a number of reasons - the first being concerns over wastage.

The Oxford/Astra-Zeneca vaccine, which would be used in pharmacies due to the fact that it can be stored at fridge temperature, is delivered in packs of 10 vials.

Each vial contains eight to ten doses, and once opened, each must be used within six hours or it can no longer be administered. 

While Dr Hannbeck admits that this is a valid concern, she points out that pharmacies have ample experience with delivery of flu vaccines to ensure minimum wastage: 

“We’ve demonstrated that we can deliver...in the case of flu vaccines, there are all sorts of problems each year, stock problems, shortages.

“We go through all sorts of hoops to get things done; it’s not always easy, and challenges exist - but we overcome them every year”.

She adds that a further barrier to pharmacy rollout has been a culture which traditionally forgets about the role pharmacists play in delivery of primary care in a community:

“Historically, pharmacies haven’t always been top of the list in terms of health solutions.

“Throughout the pandemic, we’ve been delivering services, delivering medicines to vulnerable people, those shielding...but nobody was talking about pharmacies - we tend to be forgotten about, despite all the things we deliver.”

Dr Hannbeck also points out that the current booking system for vaccinations may present another challenge for pharmacies as it’s “not currently online, and can’t be accessed by everyone”. 

Despite this, she stresses that this is “certainly not a challenge that can’t be overcome” by pharmacies, the “vast majority” of whom are keen to take part in the vaccine rollout.

Using local pharmacies makes sense for all sorts of reasons, she says, including “accessibility” and the availability of “professionals” who have extensive experience delivering flu vaccines. 

Local pharmacies also have an advantage over large centres in that they’re trusted by the people who use them regularly.

At a time when vaccine conspiracy theories threaten to hinder the fight against coronavirus, pharmacies could play a pivotal role in easing fears and concerns, says Dr Hannbeck: 

“People are used to us, they trust us...we know their medical histories, we’ve dealt with them before...some pharmacists speak the other languages spoken in their communities.”

While “delighted” that vaccines are being handed to six pharmacies in England, Dr Hannbeck believes the government will be unable to reach their ambitious target of 13.9m vaccines delivered by mid February if they don’t take advantage of the pharmacy network.

“The only way of getting out of this nightmare is vaccination...we want to continue working with the Government to enable this vital vaccine to reach all communities, much sooner than they currently are”.

You can sign JPI Media’s “A Shot in the Arm” petition at this link.