Use pharmacies to help reach elderly and minority patients with vaccine, industry leader urges

The use of more community pharmacies in the roll out of the coronavirus vaccine could persuade those less willing to have the jab to trust the process, it has been claimed.

Mary Saunders, Regional Nurse Manager holds the AstraZeneca/Oxford Covid-19 vaccine at Superdrug in Guildford. Photo: PA
Mary Saunders, Regional Nurse Manager holds the AstraZeneca/Oxford Covid-19 vaccine at Superdrug in Guildford. Photo: PA

The NHS this week launched the first six community pharmacies to deliver the coronavirus vaccine - with one in Halifax, Yorkshire.

Another 70 will be able to start booking appointments next week, and by the end of the month 200 such chemists will be able to administer the jab.

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But this newspaper has called for all of the country’s 11,500 community pharmacies to be able to offer the service locally, a demand echoed by Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer on Thursday.

And it is believed these sites could be a key area in reaching those reticent about having the inoculation.

Dr Leyla Hannbeck, Chief Executive of the Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies, welcomed the first batch of pharmacies being used, but said much more could be achieved if others were utilised.

And she said: “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.”

Earlier in the week, MPs expressed concerns over groups – including the elderly and those in the Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) community – who might be missing out on Covid-19 jabs.

The two groups have been among the worst affected by the coronavirus.

According to the Office for National Statistics, in the number of deaths which occurred between December 28, 2019 and January 1, 2021, where Covid-19 was mentioned on the death certificate, 74 per cent were in people aged over 75.

And according to Public Health England, people from black backgrounds are statistically more likely to be diagnosed with Covid-19, while death rates are higher for BAME groups.

The Office for National Statistics said people of black ethnicity were 1.9 times more likely to die from a coronavirus-related death than those of white ethnicity.

Dr Hannbeck said: “If you get your flu vaccination through your local pharmacy, if you get all your other medicines through your local pharmacy, then you know you can really trust your local pharmacist to deliver this for you, and they will do a great job.

“We have a big group of people from BAME communities working within the sector so they’ve got a lot of knowledge themselves, some of them speak the language - I’ve been to pharmacies in London where there are staff members who can speak several dialects of regional languages.

“And they’re used to dealing with patients and they’re trusted, people are comfortable because they know the person.”

Asked what his strategy was for making sure they took the opportunity of getting jab, Vaccines Minister Nadhim Zahawi said the key was “information, information, information”.

He said: “I’m working across Government to make sure that we communicate the benefits both in terms of protecting the individual but also protecting the communities that people come from.

“And of course working with BAME communities is incredibly important as part of the overall strategy to focus our attention to make sure all those communities come forward especially those who work in our care homes that care for the residents, many of them from BAME communities.

“And the more that they see people like themselves taking the vaccine, getting protected, the more effective our strategy is to deliver that protection to those communities.”

Previously GP and chairman of the NHS Clinical Leaders Network Dr Raj Kumar said: ““We all know it affects the BAME community members far more adversely and there are a far more disproportionate number of deaths from this community.

“If there was any particular group of individuals who need to be focused on in terms of getting 100 per cent take-up of the vaccine, it should be BAME groups.”

He said those from BAME backgrounds were historically less likely to access health services.

And he added: “We need to understand exactly why. I know, as a GP there may be religious reasons because vaccines may contain animal products.

“But religious leaders have come out supporting developments and in terms of these particular vaccines, no animal products are used at all.

“We have seen already, in some parts of the country, leaders from mosques and temples saying ‘this vaccine is really important for you to take, nothing in our religion says you shouldn’t have it’.

“If we have leaders in every one of these local areas conveying the same message I think we will be able to deal with the percentage of people saying they are still unsure.”

As well as the false belief that the new Covid-19 jab contains animal products, there has been a surge of misinformation shared online including around the use of aborted foetus cells.

And much of this information is being shared using social media networks or communicated via services such as messaging platform Whatsapp.

Mr Zahawi said: “I also sadly see it among the community that myself and my wife come from where there is a lot of disinformation not only on social media but very clever and evil uses of platforms like WhatsApp to share videos to scare people into not having the vaccine.”

Equalities Minister Kemi Badenoch said: “The NHS will provide information to promote the take-up of the covid-19 vaccines among all communities, and will support anyone who has questions about the vaccination process. We are doing a lot of work across Government on this issue.”

She added that the vaccine confidence campaign was a cross-Government project, and that she had met with the National Pharmacy Association to discuss the matter.