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Community pharmacists boost the Covid booster vaccine campaign

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The drive to deliver Covid booster vaccines across Swansea Bay as rapidly as possible has itself been boosted by community pharmacies.

All 49 GP practices in Swansea and Neath Port Talbot joined the health board to deliver the first two doses of the vaccine.

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But as they are now busy delivering flu vaccines on top of their usual services, community pharmacies have stepped up to help ensure the booster is available locally as well as in the main vaccination centres.

Their involvement follows a successful pilot earlier this year which saw four of them help deliver the first two doses.

Thirteen in the Swansea area, along with Vale of Neath Pharmacy in Glynneath, have now responded to the health board’s call for expressions of interest to take part in the booster programme.

One of the first to receive their booster in a pharmacy was Nigel Godfrey (pictured above), who lives near the Vale of Neath Pharmacy.

“It was fantastic,” said Mr Godfrey. “I was working from home so I could pop down to the pharmacy on my lunch break.

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“It was local, five minutes away. A lot more convenient than having to go to one of the mass vaccination centres.

“There was no waiting, I was in and out within five minutes.

“The pharmacist put me at ease and we went into a private room. There were no problems whatsoever.”

Mr Godfrey, aged 44, is entitled to the booster because of an underlying medical condition.

“But it will also protect my friends, family and colleagues, whoever I come into contact with,” he added.

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“It’s doing the right thing, not just for myself, but also those around me and the community.”

People eligible for the booster will be contacted directly with an appointment either in one of the pharmacies or in a health board vaccination centre.

Appointments are being sent out in chronological order, at least six months after the date people received their second dose.

Six months is the threshold at which those in priority groups become eligible for the booster, not an absolute date it must be given by.

Although there are no drop-in sessions, the health board has started a reserve list for people who are aged 40 or over, who had their second dose at least six months ago.

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They must also be available to attend one of the mass vaccination centres at short notice – within two hours.

As well as the MVCs, the health board employs local vaccination centres, converted shipping containers which can be taken into communities to save people who might otherwise struggle to get to an MVC.

With the pharmacies also on board, every effort is being made to ensure as many of those who are eligible for a booster can receive it as close to their home as possible.

“However, we appreciate that will not be the same for everyone,” said Swansea Bay’s Vaccine Equity Manager, Maxine Evans.

“We send invites to people living within a certain radius of the pharmacies to begin with and, if we have slots still available, we go further out.

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“We are flexible and if people cannot get to the pharmacies because they live too far away and do not have transport, they can phone the booking office to change the appointment.

“But when we have been to the pharmacies and spoken to patients, they were really grateful and happy with the fact that it was local and easy for them to get the booster there.”

Pharmacists too say they are happy to be involved with the booster programme.

Niki Watts of Vale of Neath Pharmacy said: “We decided to take part because we believe it’s important to help the health board get the population fully vaccinated as quickly as possible.

“We are located at the heart of the community so the patients find it easy to access.

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“We have good facilities, including a nice big car park right outside so the patients don’t have to walk very far, and our own dedicated consultation rooms where the vaccinations can take place in private.”

Eligibility for booster vaccines is determined nationally. It includes all adults aged 40 and over; frontline health and social care workers; people aged 16-49 with underlying health conditions putting them at higher risk of Covid-19; adult carers; and adult household contacts, aged 16 and over of anyone who is immunosuppressed.

Top of the eligibility list are people living in residential care homes for older adults. Swansea Bay has concluded its first sweep of 70 homes in the health board area – delivering more than 1,200 boosters to residents.

For various reasons, some were unable to receive the booster when the vaccinators were present, so return visits to each of the homes are now being arranged.

Georgina Assadi, health board Covid vaccine programme assistant service manager, said many of the vaccination team had not worked in the community before.

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“It was all new to them and some were a little anxious to begin with. But they all really enjoyed it because they knew they were providing protection to the most vulnerable people,” she added.

Lead image: Nigel Godfrey is given his booster by Niki Watts of Vale of Neath Pharmacy (Image: Swansea Bay NHS)

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Coronavirus

Wales extends COVID-19 testing throughout July

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Welsh Health Minister, Eluned Morgan has confirmed that access to free LFD tests will be extended in Wales until July 31st 2022.

Tests will be available to the public that are showing symptoms of coronavirus (high temperature a new, continuous cough, a loss or change to your sense of smell or taste), alongside free access for people visiting someone eligible for new COVID-19 treatments.

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The announcement comes following a rise in cases, with The Office for National Statistics recent survey reporting an increase in cases across the UK. An estimated 1 in 45 people in Wales currently have COVID-19.

The emergence of the BA.4 and BA.5 sub-variants are also contributing to this increase as they become more dominant across the UK.

The health minister has also announced the following testing will continue to be in place –

  • LFD and PCR testing for those eligible for COVID-19 treatments.
  • PCR testing for COVID-19 and other respiratory viruses for symptomatic care home residents and prisoners.
  • PCR and LFD testing under the patient testing framework and when clinically advised including pre-operative hospital patients and care home residents returning from inpatient hospital stays
  • LFD testing for symptomatic health and social care staff.
  • Twice weekly LFD tests for asymptomatic testing for health and social care staff
  • Those visiting people in care homes should continue to test using tests provided by the care home they are visiting.

Self-isolation payments of £500 will end on 30th June 2022, whilst the COVID-19 Statutory Sick Pay Enhancement scheme will be extended until 31st August 2022 to support social care staff to stay away from work due to testing positive.

Minister for Health and Social Services, Eluned Morgan, said: “Testing has been an effective tool in breaking the chain of transmission and with an increase in cases its vital that we keep testing in place to protect the most vulnerable in our society. As we have seen before, Covid can quickly change, I am announcing this extension in response to the changing picture and new variants of concern.

“I would also ask people to take protective measures to protect the more vulnerable in the community, wear masks in health and care settings, stay at home if you test positive, and take up the offer for the vaccine. We know that the vaccine is the best way to protect yourself, I would urge those eligible to have their spring booster if they have not already had it, the booster is available until June 30.

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“Covid has not gone away, whilst we are learning to live safely with it, we will continue to monitor the situation and as we have done for the last two years, we will work together to Keep Wales Safe.”

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Coronavirus

Coronavirus regulations to end in Wales

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First Minister Mark Drakeford today said Wales can look forward to a brighter future, as the last remaining coronavirus protections in law come to an end.

After more than two years of living with coronavirus regulations, these will expire on Monday May 30 when the requirement to wear a face covering in health and care settings ends.

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But the Welsh Government will continue to recommend people take simple steps to protect their health – including wearing face coverings in health and care settings – as Wales moves beyond the emergency response to the pandemic.

First Minister Mark Drakeford said: “The pandemic has had a profound impact on all our lives – everyone has made sacrifices and changes over the last two years. But it is thanks to all your efforts that we can move beyond the emergency response while still living safely with this virus.

“I want to thank everyone for all you have done to protect yourselves and your loved ones. You have followed the rules and you have kept Wales safe.

“This three-week review of the coronavirus regulations is a significant milestone – we are completing our careful and gradual transition away from legal protections and away from the emergency response to the pandemic.”

The public health situation is continuing to improve in Wales – results from recent ONS Coronavirus Infection Surveys show the number of people with Covid-19 is falling.

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But in the past week, the four UK chief medical officers have warned about the risk from new variants – BA.4 and BA.5.

The First Minister said Wales will remain alert to these and is ready to scale up testing and vaccination arrangements once again if the public health situation changes.

He added: “We remain alert to the threat of new and emerging variants, and we will be ready to respond if we see a rapid spread of the virus, causing widespread harm.

“Continuing to take simple steps, including staying up to date with vaccinations; self-isolating if you have Covid-19 symptoms and maintaining good hand hygiene, will be important in helping us all to enjoy a safer and brighter future together.”

From Monday 30 May, the legal requirement to wear a face covering in health and care settings will end. This follows the outcome of the three-weekly review of coronavirus regulations and completes a gradual, phased easing of legal restrictions since January.

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Over the last three weeks the public health situation has continued to improve, with the latest results from the ONS Coronavirus Infection Survey showing the percentage of people testing positive for coronavirus in Wales is falling.

The number of Covid-19 related patients has also fallen to less than 700 and is at its lowest level since 28 December 2021, although the NHS remains under pressure from a combination of emergency and pandemic pressures with a significant number of staff absences.

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Coronavirus

New COVID vaccination centre opens at Aberavon Shopping Centre

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A new COVID vaccination centre for Port Talbot is opening at Aberavon Shopping Centre.

Situated next door to B&M, near the river bridge entrance, Swansea Bay Health Board say it will provide vaccinations to adults and children alike.

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The first clinic will be held at the Local Vaccination Centre (LVC) on Thursday, May 26th. Slots will be available by appointment only for the time being.

The health board are asking people not to telephone the shopping centre if they want to make an appointment or if they have a general query. The health board’s booking centre can be contacted on 01792 200492 or 01639 862323.

The opening comes as the health board winds down its vaccination operation at the Bay Field Hospital near Amazon, off Fabian Way, which has been open since the first Covid vaccine was rolled out to health and social care staff in December 2020.

The final Covid vaccination clinic will be held at the Bay Mass Vaccination Centre on Wednesday, June 1st.

Blood tests will continue on that site for the time being.

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Covid vaccination clinics will also continue to be scheduled at Canolfan Gorseinon Centre, in the health board’s container in the car park of Morrisons supermarket on Baglan Industrial Park and on the Immbulance mobile vaccination clinic, which stops at various venues across the Swansea Bay area.

Interim Head of Transformation, James Ruggiero, said the move to the shopping centre signals a wider change in the Covid vaccination programme.

“The Bay has been absolutely brilliant for us but thankfully, we no longer need a permanent venue of that size.

“While no one can predict exactly what will happen in the future, we do know that some people, particularly those who are vulnerable, will need Covid boosters to help maintain a level of protection against the coronavirus, which is still out there.

“This new venue is perfect for that and a bonus is that being smaller and less intimidating, it can also be used to host clinics for children aged five to 11.”

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Vaccination staff Owain Williams, Samantha Minards, Rebecca Maus, Mathew Davies and Geraint Hammond, inside the new vaccination centre at Aberafan Shopping Centre (Image: Swansea Bay NHS)

Mr Ruggiero added: “Our teams have worked hard to set up this new convenient unit and to make it as comfortable and efficient as possible.

“We hope the public welcome it and enjoy popping to the other shops to pick up a bargain once they’ve come in for their vaccination.”

The Aberafan Shopping Centre LVC will be open between 9.30am and 4.30pm. Vaccinations are on an appointment-only basis for now.

The first vaccinations will be for the spring booster which, in line with JCVI guidance, is being given to those aged 75 and over, older care home residents and those aged 12 and over who are immunosuppressed.

The health board will shortly be announcing clinic dates for those aged five to 11 in June.

A Covid booster programme is due to run in the autumn, with interim JCVI advice saying that Residents in a care home for older adults and staff working in care homes for older adults; Frontline health and social care workers; All those 65 years of age and over; and adults aged 16 to 65 years in a clinical risk group should each receive one dose.

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(Lead image: Swansea Bay NHS)

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