News

HDA UK Media and Political Bulletin – 12 February 2021

Media Summary

‘Logistical difficulties’ preventing wider pharmacy COVID vax rollout
Chemist + Druggist, Aleks Phillips, 11 February

Chemist + Druggist reports that “logistical difficulties” are preventing all pharmacies from becoming COVID vaccination sites – but that Vaccines Minister Nadhim Zahawi has said they will be part of the rollout’s “next chapter.”

Mr Zahawi said the reason all pharmacies were not being used as vaccination sites was because supply of the vaccine was “finite”. There are “logistical difficulties with having all pharmacies as vaccination sites – including vaccine transportation with time constraints, and of course providing sites with all the other equipment they need to operate effectively,” he added.

NHS England Chief Executive Simon Stevens and Healthcare Distribution Association Executive Director Martin Sawer have previously indicated that the supply of the vaccine was the “rate-limiting factor” for vaccine rollout.

 

Next phase of UK vaccine rollout ‘may not meet the public’s expectations’, group of MPs warns
Sky News, Editorial Team, 12 February

MPs have warned that a lack of planning could affect the next phase of the Coronavirus vaccine rollout, according to Sky News. The Commons Public Accounts Committee (PAC) praised the “world-beating” effort to get the jab to the most vulnerable, but said there is “much to be done” if the UK government is to hit its next target.

Despite confidence that the UK has access to more than enough doses, the committee said there were “concerns” over the supply chain. They said the Government will continue to face “significant challenges” in ensuring it gets the jab to “the right people at the right time”, particularly given the different handling requirements of the Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines.

The committee added there was a “strong case” for looking again at which groups should be prioritised after the most vulnerable have been vaccinated – especially frontline key workers who are more exposed to community transmission of the virus.

A government spokesperson said: “The government is confident the regular supply of doses we have secured for the UK will support the continued expansion of our rollout in the weeks ahead.”

 

Parliamentary Coverage

Medicines and Medical Devices Bill Receives Royal Assent
UK Parliament, 11 February

Yesterday, Speaker of the House of Commons Sir Lindsay Hoyle confirmed that the Medicines and Medical Devices Bill has received Royal Assent, following agreement by both Houses on the text of the Bill. The Bill is now an Act of Parliament (law).

Key elements of the Bill include:

  • Increasing the range of professions able to prescribe low-risk medicines;
  • Developing more innovative ways of dispensing medicines;
  • Implementing a scheme to stop counterfeit medicines entering supply chains; and
  • Implementing a registration scheme for online sellers.

You can read more about the Bill here.

 

Written Letter to Lord Teverson, Chair of the EU Environment Sub-Committee
Edward Argar MP, Minister of State for Health in the Department for Health and Social Care, 22 January

The EU Environment Sub-Committee has today published a letter from Edward Argar MP, the Minister of State for Health, to Lord Teverson, the Chair of the EU Environment Sub-Committee, dated 22 January 2021. The letter concerns the supply of pharmaceuticals into Northern Ireland after the Transition Period.

The letter notes that on 11 December 2020, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) published guidance setting out that companies will have 12 months from 1 January 2021 during which they can continue to supply medicines to Northern Ireland in much the same way as they have previously done, and after which they will need to be compliant with regulatory importation and Falsified Medicines Directive safety features requirements when supplying medicines from Great Britain to Northern Ireland.

The letter adds that the 12-month phased implementation provides the time and flexibility industry needs to plan and implement long-term solutions to supply Northern Ireland, such as by using the Common Transit Convention or rerouting supply directly to Northern Ireland.

You can read the letter in full here.

 

 

Full Coverage

‘Logistical difficulties’ preventing wider pharmacy COVID vax rollout
Chemist + Druggist, Aleks Phillips, 11 February

“Logistical difficulties” are preventing all pharmacies becoming COVID vaccination sites – but they will be part of the rollout’s “next chapter”, Minister Nadhim Zahawi has said.

Speaking at a webinar hosted by pharmaceutical manufacturer Sigma last night, Mr Zahawi was asked by C+D to clarify earlier comments in which he said he did not want vaccines “just sitting” in pharmacy fridges.

Mr Zahawi said the reason all pharmacies were not being used as vaccination sites was because supply of the vaccine was “finite”. There are “logistical difficulties with having all pharmacies as vaccination sites – including vaccine transportation with time constraints, and of course providing sites with all the other equipment they need to operate effectively”, he added.

The requirement that a pharmacy-led vaccination site be able to give a minimum of 1,000 jabs a week – which had ruled out many smaller sites, leading to a C+D campaign to reverse the decision – was “a deliberate part of the strategy at the moment” in order to “make sure the through-put is there”, he said.

However, Mr Zahawi added: “As we get millions more doses coming through in the weeks and months to come […] it then becomes about reach – and I think community pharmacy has tremendous reach into those hard-to-reach communities – and convenience. Again, you tick those two boxes brilliantly, which is where I see the next iteration or the next chapter of this story heading towards.”

Earlier in the event, Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC) Simon Dukes Chief Executive had said that community pharmacy had “the potential for thousands of vaccine sites, not just hundreds.”

He added that PSNC had worked up a proposal for smaller sites to be able to vaccinate less than the 1,000 doses per week requirement, as “the sector is keen to help”.

Mr Zahawi said that there would be over 200 pharmacy-led vaccination sites by the end of the month (currently, there are 192), but the limiting factor remained the supply of the vaccine.

NHS England Chief Executive Simon Stevens and Healthcare Distribution Association Executive Director Martin Sawer have previously indicated that the supply of the vaccine was the “rate-limiting factor” for vaccine rollout.

“It has been challenging to set up so many vaccination sites – no doubt,” Mr Zahawi remarked last night. “As Brigadier Prosser at one of the press conferences referred to it, it’s a bit like standing up a supermarket chain in a month and then growing it by 20% every week.”

Mr Zahawi also paid tribute to one of the first independent pharmacy-led sites to go live, Cullimore Chemists in Edgware – which he visited in January – stating that it had been “heartening” to see such “exceptional work”. He also made mention of the “innovative” work of community pharmacists in South Tyneside, who have been giving up their weekends to vaccinate at-risk housebound patients in their own homes.

He told delegates: “I want to recognise the immense contribution being made by you, the community pharmacy teams, especially in these unique and exceptional times. Your work is critical to the safe care of patients. Community pharmacists really are the local lifeline for patients and the public.”

Meanwhile, in yesterday’s (February 10) daily COVID-19 briefing, prime minister Boris Johnson said that community pharmacies would be reimbursed “as soon as possible” for pandemic-related costs they had incurred.

During the government’s daily briefing from 10 Downing Street, Mr Johnson’s attention was drawn to the many pharmacies closing due to financial pressures. He was asked when the government intended to reimburse pharmacies for additional costs caused by the pandemic, and how many pharmacies he was happy to see close before the government intervened.

The Prime Minister responded: “I don’t want to see any pharmacies close. I think community pharmacies, high-street pharmacies, provide an absolutely outstanding resource for our country and its healthcare needs. And I’m particularly grateful to pharmacies now for what they’re doing as part of the vaccine effort.”

Mr Johnson added that he wanted to “make sure they are reimbursed as soon as possible. They play a vital role in helping us fight the pandemic and many, many other public health needs.”

Yesterday, the National Pharmacy Association (NPA) indicated that pharmacists may have to resort to strike action if the £370 million in loans given by the government to cover COVID-related costs were not written off by the Treasury.

“This is a desperate situation for many of our members, so it’s not surprising that you do hear people talking about some form of protest,” Andrew Lane, NPA chair, said. “But no one wants to let their patients down, so strike action is the last thing any pharmacist would want to do.”

A September 2020 report, commissioned by the NPA, predicted that 72% of pharmacies would be in debt by 2024. An NPA petition launched last year – calling on the government to forgive the debts – garnered nearly 40,000 signatures.

In November, PSNC asked the government to waive the £370 million in advance payments of COVID-19 funding made last year, a request that the Department of Health and Social Care (DH) said at the time it was “carefully considering”. The Negotiator doubled down on this request this week, accusing the government of “failing in their duty to protect the sector financially”.

Mr Dukes has said in recent weeks that the funding the sector receives from the government through NHS contracts is “not sustainable”, meaning more pharmacy closures were “inevitable”.

 

Next phase of UK vaccine rollout ‘may not meet the public’s expectations’, group of MPs warns
Sky News, Editorial Team, 12 February

A lack of planning could affect the next phase of the coronavirus vaccine rollout, MPs have warned.

The Commons Public Accounts Committee (PAC) praised the “world-beating” effort to get the jab to the most vulnerable, but said there is “much to be done” if the UK government is to hit its next target.

Ministers are aiming to offer a jab to about 15 million people in the top four priority groups by 15 February, then a further 17.7 million people in the next five groups – including all over-50s – by the end of April.

But a new report by the PAC said: “We are concerned by departments’ lack of planning for the next phase of the programme and in learning the lessons from what has already been done that will be so vital to the programme’s success.”

Despite confidence that the UK has access to more than enough doses, the committee said there were “concerns” over the supply chain.

It urged ministers to ensure plans are in place to respond to potential future developments such as the need for an annual vaccination programme, or the discovery of new variants of the virus.

Earlier, both the Scottish and Welsh devolved administrations said they expected a slight drop in the number of vaccines – but added that the move was “planned” and “factored” in already.

The committee said the government will continue to face “significant challenges” in ensuring it gets the jab to “the right people at the right time”, particularly given the different handling requirements of the Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines.

There is a risk that its plans for the programme “will not meet public expectations”, the committee said as it stressed the need for clear messaging.

“Government has at times struggled to communicate clearly to the public about what they can expect from the vaccine programme, otherwise it risks confusion about who will be able to access the vaccine, how and when,” MPs said.

“With misinformation about vaccines being circulated on various digital platforms, clear communication from government is particularly important to maintain public confidence and take-up.”

The committee said there was a “strong case” for looking again at which groups should be prioritised after the most vulnerable have been vaccinated – especially frontline key workers who are more exposed to community transmission of the virus.

A government spokesperson said: “This report rightly recognises the huge effort under way to deliver the biggest vaccination programme in NHS history, with over 13.5 million people given their first dose so far.

“The government is confident the regular supply of doses we have secured for the UK will support the continued expansion of our rollout in the weeks ahead.

“We continue to work with Public Health England and our exceptional scientists to tackle the variants currently in the UK and to make sure we are ready to respond to new variants in the future if needed.

“And through the NHS, community leaders and faith groups we are working to tackle misinformation and raise awareness of the facts about vaccines.”

HDA UK Media and Political Bulletin – 12 February 2021

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