Pharmacy teams have been heavily involved in the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccination. We have taken on new roles and worked tirelessly with other healthcare professionals to protect our communities – despite demanding work schedules. Many of us extended our opening times to increase availability and volunteered to support vaccination centres, pop-ups and mobile units. We were also reminded to be innovative and make sure our ‘front doors to the NHS’ remained open for everyone – wherever they live and whatever their circumstances.
Bringing vaccinations to the streets
I have been volunteering with charity NishkamSWAT for a number of years, aiming to support disadvantaged communities, including those who are homeless or rough sleeping.
Although the COVID-19 vaccination has been widely available here in the UK, we know getting access to them isn’t straightforward for everyone. I worked with other volunteers to get approval from local authorities and take the COVID-19 vaccine directly to the streets of London. We hosted two drop-in clinics at our regular locations, to make sure everyone felt safe and comfortable in familiar surroundings. The same GPs, dentists and pharmacists, who had been giving free meals delivered over 100 vaccinations. They knew us all as individuals and we had already built strong, trusted relationships.
We also work closely with places of worship to increase confidence and take-up of COVID-19 vaccinations in our communities. We have hosted GP-led COVID-19 information sessions, followed by drop-in vaccination clinics. At our recent clinic at a Gurdwara in Swindon, we delivered 74 COVID-19 boosters and 43 flu vaccines and thanks to our multilingual staff, everyone had the support they needed to make an informed choice.
Increasing vaccine confidence
Although vaccinations are readily available, easy to book and convenient, people in some communities are still hesitant to have the vaccine. Pharmacists are known to be friendly and trusted voices in our neighbourhoods, so we’re in a strong position to engage patients in health conversations, provide vaccination advice and deliver vaccines.
Listening to concerns, as well as providing advice and support allows patients to make a informed decision, this in turn has a lasting effect. It increases confidence in healthcare professionals and encourages them to seek advice for their future health concerns.
As well as one to one conversations, Question and Answer webinars or information drop-ins provide a viable option for people to speak openly and honestly, particularly if they are unsure about vaccination. Working with translators or trusted local representatives can further increase engagement, whilst allowing people to hear the information directly.
Supporting those with fewer opportunities to access services
As community pharmacies, we continue to explore practical ways to engage and support our patients at risk of social exclusion or with limited access to health services.
Pharmacists, as well as other teams of healthcare professionals and agencies across England have ran Outreach programmes which have been hugely successful and ensure everyone has access to vaccination. Examples include home-based vaccinations for elderly or housebound patients and their carers, pop-up information and vaccination clinics within homeless shelters, Gypsy, Roma and Traveller caravan sites, places of worship, schools, fire stations, community centres or at community health and wellbeing events and designated warm spaces. We are also seeing more teams taking a ‘Making Every Contact Count’ approach which includes identifying cases of high blood pressure, increase access to screening or other immunisations. I continue to work with our local council to arrange future health clinics at our local Gurdwara.
My final lesson to share, is the importance of partnerships and approvals. Ensure you get relevant approvals and support from local councils, authorities and your local NHS Integrated Care Boards. And establish strong networks with local charities, community groups and other partner organisations, for access to valuable insights into the needs and behaviours of those you are seeking to help, and access to practical support from the voices people trust.
You can find useful information about COVID-19 vaccinations at www.nhs.uk/covidvaccination