Local pharmacies are the latest part of the health service to join England’s Covid-19 vaccination rollout as the drive to protect the most vulnerable gathers pace.
Six pharmacies launched their programmes on Thursday and hundreds more are preparing to open in the coming weeks, but it may be a little while before anyone can stroll in for a jab.
– Where are the pharmacies delivering vaccines?
So far, Andrews Pharmacy in Macclesfield and Appleton Village Pharmacy in Widnes, both in Cheshire, Boots in Halifax, West Yorkshire, and Woodside Pharmacy in Telford, Shropshire, are the first to open their vaccine centres.
Further south, Superdrug in Guildford, Surrey, and Cullimore Chemist in Edgware, north London, have also joined the rollout.
But things are scaling up fast – 200 pharmacies should be delivering the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine, which can be stored at higher temperatures than the Pfizer jab, by the end of of the month.
– Why were these pharmacies chosen for the pilot?
The six sites were selected because they have enough room for patients to receive the vaccine and be observed for 15 minutes afterwards to ensure they suffer no ill-effects.
After receiving the first dose, it still takes between one and two weeks for the body to build up immunity so patients need to be able to observe social distancing at vaccination centres.
“We are discussing with the NHS how quickly they would like us to do that,” Mr James told the BBC.
– Can I get a vaccine at a pharmacy when one opens up near me?
Unfortunately not. At the moment vaccination is strictly by appointment only as the Government and NHS focus on inoculating the highest-priority groups.
Pharmacies will initially be dealing with those aged 80 and over, then those aged 75 upwards, followed by those 70 and above, who will receive a letter inviting them to make an appointment through a new national booking service.
The Government hopes to have vaccinated all those in the most vulnerable groups by the middle of February and the public are asked not to contact the service until they have received their letter.
– How much will it cost?
Nothing. The vaccine is being delivered in partnership with the NHS and will be free to patients.
With the arrival of the vaccine, there have also been a number of scams by fraudsters asking elderly and vulnerable people for cash or bank account details and even offering “door to door” jabs.
“If you receive an email, text message or phone call purporting to be from the NHS and you are asked to provide financial details, this is a scam,” she said.
– Are the pharmacies making money from their participation?
Although pharmacies are commercial businesses, the heads of Boots was quick to emphasise that none of the companies involved will be profiting from their involvement in the rollout.
Like GP surgeries, pharmacies will be paid £12.58 per dose – a sum that is supposed to make the programme cost-neutral to the services delivering it.
Boots chief Mr James said: “We have been very, very clear throughout that we have no intention of making any profit out of it.
“We all have one goal and one goal only in mind, and that is to get the country back on its feet, and we are very pleased to be a part of that effort.”
– Could anything delay the rollout in pharmacies?
Finding enough healthcare professionals to keep a pharmacy vaccination centre open for 12 hours a day, seven days a week is likely to cause some headaches.
Mr James warned that finding trained cover “is the big challenge and is the limiting factor” should any of the 25 staff needed to keep its first site in Halifax running fall ill or have to self-isolate.
But he said staff will not be jumping the queue for the jab.
“We are very, very clear that we can’t sneak vaccines into anybody we want, we need to make sure we are following the right protocols,” he said.