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Longer Pfizer vax shelf life opens COVID programme to more pharmacies

As of April 23, there were 339 pharmacy-led vaccination sites
As of April 23, there were 339 pharmacy-led vaccination sites

The MHRA’s decision to extend the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine shelf life should enable more pharmacies to join the vaccination programme, pharmacists have told C+D.

The thawed Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine can now be stored at 2-8°C for up to 31 days, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) said yesterday (May 20).

Vaccination sites had previously been advised to administer doses of the first MHRA-approved COVID vaccine within five days of it leaving low-temperature freezers.

Storage “easier and possible” for more providers

The updated guidance – which follows an MHRA review of new data from Pfizer on the vaccine’s stability  make storage “easier and possible” for more healthcare facilities, the MHRA said.

C+D has asked NHS England and NHS Improvement (NHSE&I) whether it will commission a greater number of pharmacies to provide COVID-19 vaccines in light of the updated MHRA guidance.

A spokesperson said vaccination sites will be updated with changes to the vaccination programme “if and when” they are decided.

As of April 23, 339 pharmacy-led vaccination sites were involved in the programme.

“One of the barriers” to pharmacy’s involvement resolved

The community pharmacy local enhanced service – coronavirus vaccination standard operating procedure (SOP) specifies that “vaccines offered under this service must be received, stored, and prepared in accordance with any conditions set by the MHRA in relation to each vaccine”.

Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies (AIMp) CEO Dr Leyla Hannbeck told C+D that the updated MHRA guidance means “one of the barriers that we were told prevented more pharmacies from getting involved is now resolved”.

The organisation joined the pharmacy sector’s calls in January asking the government to mobilise the whole community pharmacy network to help with the vaccination programme.

“We look forward to seeing more community pharmacies being given the chance to provide this important service,” Dr Hannbeck said. “Our members have been involved in successfully delivering COVID vaccination service and they have shown that there is no doubt that community pharmacy can champion this service”. 

Offer more appointments

Knights Pharmacy superintendent pharmacist Pete Horrocks – whose pharmacy supervises four vaccination sites – told C+D yesterday that “removing the major logistical issue of using vaccine within 120hrs of frozen storage will enable more pharmacy sites to offer this service”.

He added that the updated guidance will also enable existing pharmacy-led sites to offer appointments on a “greater number of days of the week”.

“Until today, we have had to plan clinics for only three days of the week following our delivery. It’s yet another change to the COVID vaccination service, but this time it’s a very welcome one,” Mr Horrocks said.

He added that the Knights Pharmacy sites have administered more than 77,000 vaccinations as of yesterday, and their fifth site will go live next week.

Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine still delicate

The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine “remains inherently fragile”, NHSE&I pointed out in a letter to superintendents of community pharmacies providing COVID-19 vaccinations yesterday.

“It must be treated with care and, in particular, it is important that any transportation and preparation of the vaccine always takes place within the permitted parameters and in accordance with the SOPs developed by the NHS Specialist Pharmacy Service,” the national commissioner wrote.

Ash Soni, owner of Copes Pharmacy in Streatham, London, told C+D today (May 21) he hopes the government will decide to commission a wider number of pharmacies to offer the COVID vaccination service, following the updated MHRA guidance on storage of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine.

However, Pfizer/BioNTech is still a “difficult vaccine to use, because of the way it has to be stored and the way it has to be prepared”, he said.

“This [shelf-life] extension means that pharmacies can get large deliveries, which means they can vaccinate more patients, which will benefit patients and help us achieve our targets for vaccination of our adult population more quickly,” Mr Soni added. He said his pharmacy has started receiving deliveries of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine over the past couple of weeks.

“I would hope that, as we move beyond this phase of the vaccination programme and we start to consider potentially [giving] booster doses that we do look at how we extend this into more and more community pharmacies,” Mr Soni said.

Vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi said last month (April 27) that the government hopes to have “a steady state” of 500 pharmacy-led COVID vaccination sites in England.

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