A group of independent prescribers (IPs) in Kent have become the first community pharmacists to get involved with the initial NHS rollout of the COVID-19 vaccination programme.

Last Friday (11 December) Kent LPC mobilised eight community pharmacist IPs to work with East Kent Hospitals University NHS Foundation Trust to issue patient specific directions (PSDs) for the COVID vaccine, which allowed the first batches of COVID vaccinations to be administered for the local communities of Kent & Medway.

Shilpa Shah, chief executive officer of Kent LPC, says: “When the vaccine sites were first chosen I was asked by the CCG if community pharmacy had any IPs to support with PSDs until a PGD was in place. As we have been doing lots of work with IPs I had a database to reach out, and on Friday morning I was asked if we could mobilise some.

“I sent out a message and an email and had an emergency fifteen-minute Teams meeting explaining the situation and to see who could free themselves up at short notice that very same day. Eight pharmacists came forward immediately, including five – Atika Tailor, Jamin Patel, Krunal Tailor, Lodi Lama and Sunil Kochhar – who could get a locum immediately. These five started reading all the information that they needed and the Trust organised an overview and an FAQ session when they got there. We set up a group where they could share concerns so that they could support each other, and they all stayed until 10pm to write PSDs.”

East Kent Hospitals is one of 50 hospital hubs involved in the first tranche of the NHS immunisation programme, with more hospitals set to take part over the coming weeks and months. Patients aged 80 and above who are already attending hospital as an outpatient, and those who are being discharged home after a hospital stay, will be among the first to receive the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccination.

Atika Tailor, IP and superintendent pharmacist at Sturdee Avenue Pharmacy in Gillingham, Kent, says: “When the opportunity came to help with the vaccine roll out, as a prescriber, I, along with my colleagues, jumped at the chance to help our community. There was no second thought, and I am so glad that we did. The welcome we got was immense, the work we did was incredible, and I hope that the impact we had will last. When pharmacists work together, great things happen.”

Sunil Kochhar, IP and consultant pharmacist at Regent Pharmacies in Gravesend, Kent, and PSNC South East Coast Regional Representative, says it was “an honour being part of history”, and Ms Shah says the feedback she received from Gail Locock, director of nursing and quality at Kent & Medway System was that “the IP’s were brilliant and that they really made a difference”.

“COVID has led to community pharmacy really being part of the NHS system in Kent & Medway, and to be involved with COVID vaccines so early on in the process shows how much value community pharmacy can add to NHS systems”, adds Ms Shah. “I feel proud that Kent LPC was able to support and facilitate what we believe to be the first involvement of community pharmacy in the COVID vaccine programme only three days after the first vaccine was given in the world, and I’m honoured that the system across Kent & Medway values the skills and input of community pharmacy.”

Nonetheless, while this week marks a milestone in the UK’s COVID-19 response, Kent & Medway remains under Tier 3 restrictions due to high infection rates across many parts of the county.