Can they do it? Do they have time and space to do it?
In England, pharmacy joined the NHS flu programme after demonstrating both capability and capacity in locally commissioned and private services.
As we emerge into a post-lockdown, but still significantly coronavirus-impacted world, someone, somewhere might need to start thinking through the logistics of a regular, maybe annual, mass vaccination programme, whether one dose or two.
We can hope that the vaccines being administered now, in large hubs, GP surgeries, village halls and a couple of hundred community pharmacies (so far), will deliver lasting immunity that makes the exercise academic. Unfortunately, as the virus mutates (anybody other than Dido Harding surprised by that?), new variants will continue to challenge the scientists working hard to keep up.
The past 12 months have taken their toll on the nation’s spirit and its economy alike. While we can celebrate a world-beating – for once during this pandemic the term is appropriate – vaccination programme, we are not out of the woods yet.
At some point, the NHS will turn to recovery and the huge backlog of work postponed or cancelled during the pandemic (or just hidden as people have stayed at home and not presented with symptoms). The last thing it will need will be a regular diversion to vaccinate 60 million people every year or two.
So, let’s assume the worst. That, like the flu, to keep on top of circulating coronavirus, we need a regular shot. But, unlike the flu, because variants of this virus are potentially lethal to many more, the target population for vaccination is close to 100 per cent, rather than just those in certain groups.
Routinising an annual vaccination will require more than capacity and capability. It will also require access. You wouldn’t plan a system based on the commandeering of sports venues, local meeting spaces, car parks and empty office buildings unless you needed something in a hurry. So if we do end up needing regular vaccinations of the whole population, the delivery of that needs to be routinised too.
So perhaps, as well as pressing the case for expanded deployment of community pharmacies in the next wave of the current roll out, community pharmacy organisations should invest some time and energy in working out how the sector could be front and centre in a regular programme targeted at the whole population.
It’s accessible… 89 per cent of the population can walk to one in 20 minutes, etc. It has shown it has the capability. But community pharmacy will want to mainstream capacity if this is to become a regular thing. It will need other things too, like access to the vaccines stockpile and proper connectivity into the medical record.
So rather than pluck numbers out of the air, perhaps we should start the discussion by asking the sector what it thinks it could actually manage, not as an additional service, but as a regular thing, every week, or every month.
It’s just a thought.