We stand on the cusp of one of the biggest immunisation programmes in UK medical history. Amidst an acute bout of Covid vaccine euphoria and an array of dodgy metaphors involving trains, tunnels, bugles and penalty shoot-outs, the NHS is gearing up for round-the-clock mass vaccination of the public involving up to 1,500 GP practices, drive-through centres, sports facilities, theme parks, along with extensive home visits.
Given the extreme logistical challenges associated with delivering the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, it is unlikely that community pharmacy will be heavily involved in this first phase of the fightback against Covid. That said, with more vaccines coming quickly down the line, assuming they pass all the necessary safety and efficacy tests, the sector is ready and able to play a significant role in the national immunisation effort.
Just how significant depends on what can be thrashed out between PSNC and DHSC/NHS England – and here alarm bells might start to ring. Playing a major part in a national vaccination drive should be a no-brainer given community pharmacy’s accessibility, public trust and outstanding track record of vaccination delivery. There again, this is an area fraught with unfathomable barriers and inconsistencies. As we went to press, for example, pharmacists had still not been told when and how flu jabs would be available from the central Government stockpile. This long running saga now smacks of out-and-out incompetence.
Let’s also not forget – contractors sure as hell won’t – the disgraceful fact that ministers have still failed to cover the extra costs incurred by businesses during the crisis or provide compensation for pharmacies forced to close due to Covid cases or test and trace requirements. And this is on top of the many community pharmacies already operating at a deficit. Time for PSNC to start throwing a few punches.