Stormont pressed for timetable for NI pharmacies to get Covid vaccines

Stormont’s Department of Health yesterday declined to provide any timetable for when coronavirus vaccines may be delivered to local chemists, as English pharmacies are expected to begin handling the jabs from today onwards.

By Adam Kula
Thursday, 14th January 2021, 6:30 am
Updated Thursday, 14th January 2021, 11:08 am
PACEMAKER BELFAST  04/01/2021
The Oxford/AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine is loaded into a syringe before being administered to a patient at Falls Surgery on the Falls Road, Belfast. Injections of the coronavirus vaccine started in Northern Ireland GP practices on Monday. PA Photo. Picture date: Monday January 4, 2021.
PACEMAKER BELFAST 04/01/2021 The Oxford/AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine is loaded into a syringe before being administered to a patient at Falls Surgery on the Falls Road, Belfast. Injections of the coronavirus vaccine started in Northern Ireland GP practices on Monday. PA Photo. Picture date: Monday January 4, 2021.

It comes after Boris Johnson faced stiff criticism in the House of Commons from Labour MP Karl Turner, who accused him of “wasting” the expertise of chemists.

The News Letter is currently running a campaign named ‘A Shot in the Arm’, which is pushing for all willing pharmacists to be guaranteed a role in the inoculation programme.

The reason? It would make the whole process much more convenient if the Province’s roughly 550 pharmacy outlets were pressed into service to deliver the vaccines – as opposed to making people travel to unfamiliar, centralised regional centres.

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Mr Turner yesterday told the Commons that 11,000 pharmacies nationwide “stand ready, willing and able” to dole out Covid vaccines.

“Yet his government have seemingly shunned an army of fully trained, experienced, registered technicians,” he said.

Almost shouting at the prime minister, the extremely animated MP demanded that Mr Johnson “fully mobilise the skills and expertise of community pharmacies and get Britain vaccinated”.

Mr Johnson responded that care was being taken to ensure the vaccine was distributed in such a way as to “avoid any wastage at all”.

He said 200 pharmacies are presently getting involved in the inoculation process and “we will ramp that up” – adding they will be especially “vital” in inoculating “people who are harder to reach”.

It emerged later yesterday that those 200 selected pharmacies are going to be receiving doses from today onwards, with all of them expected to have vaccines in two weeks.

Boots in Halifax and Superdrug in Guildford – plus independent chemists in Macclesfield, Edgware, Telford, and Widnes – will be the first retail pharmacies to administer jabs today.

When the News Letter approached the Department of Health to ask for further details on when roll-out to pharmacies may begin here, it just reissued the same statement it had previously given, saying they are “currently working” on it, and pledging pharmacies will “play a full and active part”.

:: Gerard Greene, the head of Community Pharmacy NI, earlier this week indicated a willingness among pharmacists to assist with inoculations.

:: This is echoed by Julie Greenfield of Pharmacy Forum NI.

:: The News Letter also reported that, thanks to a little-known change in the law, pharmacists can now legally vaccinate people outside their normal premises.

:: This raises the possibility of churches (or other such community facilities) being used as vaccine centres – with all four of the Province’s major denominations indicating that they are open to this idea.

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