Community pharmacies across Northern Ireland will join the Covid-19 vaccination programme from the end of this month, Health Minister Robin Swann has announced.
And that will bring the life-saving vaccination drive to many local high streets, urban and rural neighbourhoods.
The plan will see hundreds of community pharmacies provide vaccine jabs to members of the public, complementing the work of GP practices and vaccination centres. Over 300 pharmacies have signed up to be part of the scheme to date.
The official launch of the roll-out to community pharmacies will be on March 30, although it is expected that many will have started before then.
This new initiative will provide a convenient, localised vaccination service, with eligible members of the public receiving their jabs in scheduled vaccination clinics.
March is shaping up to be a very significant month in the programme, with the opening of the new mass vaccination centre at the SSE Arena taking place on March 29.
The Health Minister said: “I am delighted to confirm yet another positive development in our drive to protect the people of Northern Ireland from Covid-19.
“Community pharmacists are an integral part of the health and social care family. Their contribution to getting as many people vaccinated as possible will be invaluable.”
Northern Ireland’s Chief Pharmaceutical Officer Cathy Harrison said: “Community pharmacies are the most accessible healthcare service for the public and their involvement in the Covid-19 vaccination programme will build on the success of their role in Northern Ireland’s 2020/21 winter flu vaccination.
“I want to thank all the pharmacy staff involved and representatives of the community pharmacy sector for their support in bringing this plan to fruition.”
Joe Brogan, Head of Pharmacy and Medicines Management at the Health and Social Care Board, said: “The Covid vaccination campaign is one of the ways that we as a society will move forward. It is vital that our population has every opportunity to access this service and it’s fantastic to have over 300 further points where people can book an appointment for a vaccine at a time and a place that suits them. I wish to recognise the tremendous response of community pharmacy teams in supporting the response to Covid and our pathway out of the pandemic.”
The Chief Executive of Community Pharmacy NI, Gerard Greene, said: “This is a fantastic and welcome step forward. The accessibility and reach of the community pharmacy network, with pharmacists as skilled vaccinators, means they are well equipped to take part in the vaccine programme and further contribute to the pandemic response.
“Throughout the pandemic, the community pharmacy workforce has gone above and beyond to support patients across Northern Ireland. This latest example shows our pharmacists collaborating to ensure a smooth and safe vaccine programme to protect the public. This should be commended.
“We would also remind the public that community pharmacies remain open with support and guidance for any medical concern. The vaccination programme will not impact on other services and prescriptions will be dispensed in a safe, convenient and timely manner. Public health continues to be our top priority and the community pharmacy network remains committed to serving their communities. The Covid-19 vaccine is another example of community pharmacy playing that central role in primary healthcare.”
As always, the pace of the roll-out of the vaccination programme will be dependent on the availability of vaccine supplies.