NHS chiefs have been urged to get pharmacies, which are used to vaccinating thousands of people against flu each year, a role in the mass coronavirus vaccination programme and help lift England out of lockdown as soon as possible.
Hospitals and GP practices are already administering the vaccines but only larger pharmacies have so far been approved by NHS England to do so – something pharmacists in Nottinghamshire say must change.
Nick Hunter, chief officer of Community Pharmacy Nottinghamshire, said: “We have been involved in planning with the local NHS commissioners for some six months now and despite the issues and challenges COVID has brought we are keen that each community pharmacy is fully involved in the battle to win the fight against COVID.
“Clearly we would have liked to have seen community pharmacies involved in vaccinating people from day one, much like they do every year for seasonal flu, but COVID is more complex and the current vaccine availability gives some different logistics challenges that this far hasn’t allowed such an approach. However we do have local community pharmacists volunteering to work in vaccination centres.
“We also have pharmacies being considered as large vaccination centres locally. This application process has taken somewhat longer than anticipated, but as no one has ever done anything like this before we are all learning.
“We have supported the local decision to have a plan that includes all NHS organisations to maximise the capacity available across the board and give as much flexibility to residents as possible.”
Although Mr Hunter said he did not have specific dates, he added that local pharmacy sites and other NHS larger Vaccination Centres should open up in the next week or so.
"We have a long history of pharmacies working collaboratively with GP practices and the wider NHS in Nottingham and Nottinghamshire and the approach to Covid-19 vaccine roll out has been no different,” he went on.
"The vaccination model will evolve and change over time as more scientific information becomes available and vaccine supply increase. This will give people more options over the next few weeks as the vaccination programme continues.
“This is the biggest vaccination programme the NHS has ever undertaken, it is a huge challenge and our pharmacy teams are working exceptionally hard to maintain a normal pharmacy service whilst support the vaccination programme.
"Unfortunately some residents may have to wait a while until they are called for their vaccination, the Gov.uk site explains why.
"In the meantime if they haven’t had their flu vaccination and are eligible for an NHS seasonal flu vaccination it is very important to protect themselves and their loved ones and get vaccinated. Most pharmacies have flu vaccination appointments available, some even offer a walk in service so people should ask at their local pharmacy.”
Figures show there are dozens of small and medium-sized pharmacies across the county that could be utilised to speed up the coronavirus vaccination rollout.
But not every pharmacy can be equipped to administer coronavirus jabs- in the age of social distancing, very small premises that have low limits on the number of customers that can enter at one time may struggle.