An open letter by Community Pharmacies Wales calls for more engagement from Welsh Government to speed up the roll-out of COVID vaccinations in Wales.
It comes as NHS England is aiming for more than 200 chemists in communities in England to deliver 1,000 vaccine doses a week by the end of January. In Wales just one pharmacy is currently delivering COVID vaccinations.
Community Pharmacies Wales (CPW), the body that represents pharmacies in Wales said: “Everything needs to be sped up. At a minimum, all community pharmacies who currently deliver flu vaccine should be immediately invited to participate and absolutely no community pharmacy that expresses an interest should be turned down.”
Andrew RT Davies MS – the Conservative Shadow Health Minister – described the letter as a “damning indictment” of the Labour administration’s approach to managing the pandemic.
Mr Davies said: “Pharmacies in England are joining the fight against the virus and starting to play their role in the rollout of the vaccination programme, and here in Wales there is great enthusiasm from pharmacies to do just the same.
“Community pharmacies are a trusted and friendly face on the high street and need to be deployed as soon as possible to expand the vaccination roll out across Wales.
“It is worrying they have yet to be commissioned and engagement has been so minimal, and this could be another example where the Welsh Labour Government is forced to play catch-up.
“This dither and delay could cost lives and livelihoods and it’s now imperative the First Minister eases the pressure on the health minister and appoints a dedicated vaccinations minister to deliver the rollout at rapid speed.”
Health Secretary Vaughan Gething MS said: “We are in the early stages of delivering the largest vaccination programme Wales has ever seen and the sheer scale of what has been achieved so far, and continues to happen, should not be underestimated.
“The roll-out of these vaccines to everyone eligible adult in Wales as quickly as if safe to do so is truly an example, once again, of our inspiring healthcare workforce coming together as one.
“A mix of vaccination sites and centres have been selected to ensure everyone across the country has equal access to a vaccination. People can be expected to be asked to attend either a mass or community centre, hospital, GP practice, pharmacy or mobile unit.
“Just because there isn’t a type of service near to you, this does not mean any less is happening.
“Safety is of course at the fore of all that our Health Boards and staff do, but we have also worked to ensure our vaccination locations meet the needs of the characteristics of the vaccines and are as conveniently located as possible for the community it will serve.
“Your local pharmacist may not be offering the jab just yet, but they may very well be working all hands-on-deck at your local mass vaccination centre instead.
“Conversely, mass vaccination centres aren’t suitable for every local authority so you may be asked to attend a community or mobile centre.
“We also want people to feel comfortable to be vaccinated and to do this as conveniently as possible too, especially for those most at risk from the harms of coronavirus. This means using GP practices for a lot of our national delivery and they will be a key focus as the roll-out progresses.
“I cannot stress enough; your local health care workforce are doing absolutely everything they can, and to them I am immensely thankful.
“When it is your turn, you will be notified of where to go. Please do not call your GP or health services to request a COVID-19 vaccine and add undue pressure to their workloads.”
Pharmacy settings are being piloted – similar to how care homes were in the initial stages – to establish the quickest, safest way to deliver vaccinations in these specific settings as they are much different and varied compared to GP surgeries and the bigger vaccination centres.
Fferyllfa Llŷn Cyf in Llanbedrog, which falls under the Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board area, is the first (and only) in Wales to offer the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine from a pharmacy setting.
Pharmacist Llyr Hughes of Fferyllwyr Llŷn Cyf said: “We are incredibly proud to be the first pharmacy in Wales to roll out the COVID-19 vaccine and are keen to do all we can to support the Health Board and Welsh Government accelerate the roll out of the programme.
“Our aim is to work together with the Mass Vaccination Centres, GP practices and community pharmacies to deliver the largest vaccination programme the NHS has ever seen.
“Pharmacists play a huge role in vaccinating against flu on a yearly basis and have the skills and expertise to provide the new immunisations.
“I’m looking forward to seeing pharmacies across Wales play a big part in helping to protect our communities as the programme expands.”