The director of a high street pharmacy has described joining England’s Covid-19 vaccination roll-out as one of the “biggest days of my career” as the site began delivering its first jabs.
Andrews Pharmacy in Macclesfield, Cheshire, is one of six pharmacies in the country to begin administering doses as the government seeks to expand its vaccination programme.
Speaking on Thursday, director Andrew Hodgson, who has owned pharmacies in the area for more than 30 years, described the rush to set up a vaccination site as “a whirlwind”.
He gave the first dose of the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab to 82-year-old Robert Salt at 8am on Thursday morning.
“It is probably the biggest single day of my career,” Mr Hodgson said.
He added: “It’s been a bit of a whirlwind. We’ve set this up in three or four weeks from scratch.
“The whole team is very excited to be part of the roll-out.”
Mr Hodgson said he knew four generations of some of the families who use the pharmacy.
“I feel close to the people who are getting vaccinated and it is a personal experience for them,” he said.
Mr Salt said it was “wonderful” to have received his first dose, adding: “There was a little trepidation but it’s good, everything has gone fine today, apart from the weather.”
He said he felt relieved, but added he still had to be careful as his wife was still waiting for a vaccine appointment because she is under 80.
“I’m healthy but you know you’re in the age range where you’re very vulnerable,” Mr Salt said.
“The situation with the death rates going up the way they have done is pretty frightening.”
Elsewhere, Boots in Halifax, Cullimore Chemist in Edgware, north London, Woodside Pharmacy in Telford, Appleton Village Pharmacy in Widnes and Superdrug in Guildford have also joined the roll-out.
Natasha Eastwood, manager of Boots in Halfax, said she was “thrilled” the site had been selected as one of the first pharmacies to deliver the vaccine.
“Pharmacies like ours are at the very heart of their local community, offering a trusted team and location that our patients are familiar and comfortable with to be vaccinated against Covid-19,” she said.
Seb James, managing director Boots UK and Republic of Ireland, said additional sites would be opening in its Huddersfield and Gloucester branches in the coming weeks, with more stores under consideration.
Mr James said: “Like Covid-19 testing, we believe Boots can play a key role in the vaccination programme – our pharmacists are experts in vaccination programmes and have a trusted role at the heart of our local communities.
“Pharmacies are extremely well placed to support the roll-out of this vaccine quickly and safely, and we stand ready to do much more.”
Peter Cast, 87, from Ashtead in Surrey, was one of the first to receive the vaccine at Superdrug in Guildford.
“The fact that we have moved from the virus through the scientific processes of research to a possible answer with a vaccine is absolutely miraculous, and more particularly the time over which it has happened,” he said.
“I’m very conscious that a hundred years ago my mother lost a brother to the flu virus and I have always been conscious of its danger. So I think the step forward that the science and the drug manufacturers have made over the last 12 months is astonishing.”
Christine Zemba, lead pharmacist at the branch, urged anyone who has been contacted to arrange a vaccine appointment at a pharmacy to attend.
“Community pharmacies are very skilled in giving mass vaccinations such as flu.
“We are very accessible to the public and we can also rely on our vast clinical knowledge – even though this is a new vaccine – to be able to give a safe and effective service,” she said.
Michael Henry, healthcare director at Superdrug, said plans were under way to open vaccination sites in stores in Manchester, Leeds, Basingstoke and Bristol operating 12 hours a day, seven days a week.
He said: “I believe it is critically important that everyone plays their part in supporting the national effort against Covid-19 and ensuring that we get the country and the economy back on track as soon as possible.”
The government aims to have vaccinated all people in the four most vulnerable groups by the middle of next month.
Those who are eligible for a vaccine will be contacted and invited to make an appointment through a new national booking service.
This gives them the option of having a vaccine at a pharmacy or in a GP-led vaccination centre.
By the end of the month more than 200 community chemists with capacity for 1,000 doses a week will be able to give vaccines, according to NHS England.
The pharmacies join the 200 hospitals, around 800 GP clinics and seven mass vaccination centres where jabs are already being handed out.
The first six pharmacies were picked because they can deliver large volumes of the vaccine and allow for social distancing.