Why our community pharmacy is one of 15 sites in London to have the COVID-19 vaccine up and running so far

In true digital fashion of 2020, when NHS England first assessed our Community Pharmacy as a potential COVID-19 vaccination site, it was through a virtual rather than physical visit.

It was the size and layout of the Woolwich Late Night Pharmacy that NHS England loved; we have a large hallway and two consultation rooms separate from the main pharmacy. And that’s why, after visiting us in person two weeks later, they approved us so quickly.

So far we are the only community pharmacy registered to supply the vaccine in Greenwich, and one of 15 community pharmacies registered across all of London at the time of writing. There was a lot to do for us to succeed.

On the morning of January 21, 2021, you could cut the mood at the pharmacy with a knife: we were ready to embark on our first day as an official COVID-19 vaccination site. We worked tirelessly to prepare for the time when we could open our doors to our first patients, and finally it was here. We were excited, but nervous.

After a few last-minute computer issues, the team made sure everything was sorted out for the big day. And when we walked into the pharmacy in the morning, we checked our reservations on the new QFlow system. Although we only went live the night before, we already had 70 reservations, proving how much needed our new COVID-19 vaccination site is.

Two of our senior pharmacists were appointed as vaccinators, and the administrative team, along with two dedicated volunteers, helped run the rest of the clinic. This included making sure patients were socially distanced, comfortable and fully informed about the process and what comes next.

All the hard work we put in paid off: everything went well and we can say that our first day was a huge success. The patients were so happy and grateful to receive their shots, and they praised our pharmacy team for their hard work.

Since then, we have intensified our operations at the pharmacy: we now have the capacity to administer 3,000 vaccinations per week. Our goal is to vaccinate as many members of the public as possible, so that we can protect our elderly and most vulnerable from COVID-19.

And that’s why we want to do more. At the moment NHS England requires us to deliver the vaccine between 08:00 and 20:00, but we are an overnight pharmacy! If NHS England allows us, we are prepared to remain open from 07.30am to 10.30pm, so that we can protect as many people as possible.

On January 13, 2021, Prime Minister Boris Johnson suggested that we would “go 24/7 as soon as we can”, and we will be ready to help in this effort, as soon as we have the green light.

This service is really a team effort: we have a WhatsApp group with all the sites in London that have uploaded the vaccine, and it has been fascinating to read about their experiences. They’ve been very busy and we look set to be a lot busier too; we urge all patients to make an appointment as soon as they are invited by the NHS or their GP to be vaccinated.

But we are prepared for it. We have a group of people we can contact for help if we need it. For example, a pharmacy technician in one of our other branches was recently trained to vaccinate.

It is important that we limit our risks to our patients and families as well. This is why many of us have received our vaccines without reservation.

Being on the front lines of the COVID-19 vaccine and being able to contribute to the health of the nation is such an honor and we will never forget it.

Sobha Sharma, Senior Clinical Prescribing Pharmacist; Jignesh Mehta, superintendent; Rajen Kandel, Chairman, Woolwich Late Night Pharmacy, London

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