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We can reach into communities to boost jab uptake


We can reach into communities to boost jab uptake

Community pharmacies are vital in the battle to beat Covid so it is exasperating that the sector is still having to argue for fair funding, says NPA board member Reena Barai.

With the Covid-19 vaccine rollout well underway, the battle against the virus is at a crucial stage and community pharmacy is again at the forefront.

We are pleased that the minimum threshold for participation in the vaccine programme has been reduced to 400 vaccines per week, but the NHS should be bolder still. Ultimately, we anticipate thousands of pharmacies vaccinating against Covid.

Success for the vaccine programme is not only about total numbers vaccinated, but also the reach into communities, including certain ethnic minority groups. The public has a high level of trust in their local pharmacists and that can be an important factor in overcoming doubts and misapprehensions about Covid-19 vaccines – including within some BAME communities, where take-up has been lower.

Following an NPA briefing with vaccine minister Nadhim Zahawi and equalities minister Kemi Badenoch, I was invited last month to chair a webinar on vaccine hesitancy. Dr Shirley Hopper of the MHRA and Professor Jeremy Brown of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation joined me to present their detailed knowledge of Covid-19 vaccines. So did community pharmacy colleagues, who shared insights into how they have been able to reassure patients and customers.

Clear injustice

Polls before and after the event showed a positive shift in confidence among webinar participants to reassure patients about the safety, efficacy and cultural acceptability of the vaccines. At the close a total of 90 per cent said they felt ‘confident’ or ‘very confident’ about advising and reassuring patients and customers with vaccine concerns.

We also asked participants to estimate how many people have asked for their advice about the vaccines. It appears that hundreds of thousands of people have so far asked for advice and reassurance from community pharmacists. Against this backdrop – of pharmacies being a vital component in the battle to beat Covid and save lives – it is exasperating that we are still having to argue for decent overall funding. Many pharmacies are running deficits and there is a clear injustice in the way pharmacies have, in effect, been punished for staying open during the pandemic.

The frustration has spilled over, in some quarters, into talk of possible ‘industrial action’. The NPA is clear that we could not support actions that penalise patients at this moment of public health crisis, but we understand the desperate predicament that sits behind the idea. That’s why we have recently equipped NPA members in the constituencies of key cabinet ministers with campaign packs, to help them protest in a way that targets politicians, not the people.

We will continue to be vocal and unwavering in our campaign for fair funding, working with other pharmacy bodies and stakeholders across healthcare to achieve a satisfactory outcome as soon as possible.

We will continue to be vocal and unwavering in our campaign for fair funding

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