Sunderland Echo

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Echo campaign challenges Government to use local pharmacies as vaccinatio­n centres

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The Sunderland Echo and its sister titles across the UK today challenge Boris Johnson to ensure that every citizen is only a short walk away from a vaccine centre.

We urge him to deploy the country’s network of 11,000 pharmacies as front-line Covid vaccine centres as part of that.

Despite increasing warm words from Government in the past few days that they will expand the use of the very limited number of the 200 largest pharmacies it is essential that every one is given a cast-iron assurance that they will be allowed to play their part – with the minimum of red tape.

Local pharmacies are highly trusted by their communitie­s - and are convenient to access. Where they do not all have the staff and facilities to provide the jab, the government should urgently provide this support.

Thousands of readers have expressed concern over vaccine arrangemen­ts – from the informatio­n being given to the distance to travel to receive it. There are also worries about the time it will take to build makeshift centres.

But the authorisat­ion

– and deployment – of the Oxford-AstraZenec­a vaccine offers an opportunit­y for local pharmacies because it only requires one initial dose, the second coming up to 12 weeks later, and does not have to be stored at low temperatur­es to be effective.

And the advantages for both the Government – and local communitie­s – appear to be so significan­t that they need to be taken further into account if 14 million are to be vaccinated by mid-February, the stated target. There are 11,000 local pharmacies across Britain many of which have the capacity and are ready, willing and able to assist with this national effort. They have experience of vaccinatio­n programmes like winter flu jabs.

Pharmacist­s have the necessary qualificat­ions – a crucial requiremen­t – and their stores are accessible to most people.

This would be a way of the

Government signalling its support for high streets during the latest lockdown.

“There are over 11,000 pharmacies. If each of those does 20-a-day that is 1.3 million-a-week extra vaccines that can be provided, very often to those who are hardest to reach,” said Royal Pharmaceut­ical Society president Sandra Gidley. “Why would any government not want to do that?”

We agree – and we look forward to Health Secretary Matt Hancock showing far greater ambition, and urgency, than his initial promise last week to involve just 200 community outlets. As the Cabinet minister says himself, pharmacies “are highly engaged in their local community, often more local than any other healthcare setting”.

But we have one further request of the Government – start providing far more easyto-access informatio­n on the vaccine programme – and timetable – to provide families, particular­ly the elderly and clinically vulnerable, with the reassuranc­e that they’ve not been forgotten.

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