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While pharmacists should be vaccinating for Covid-19, the strain on resources shouldn’t be underestimated, writes Fintan Moore

Like many of you, I recently downloaded the Expression of Interest form required by the HSE for pharmacies considering providing a Covid vaccination service. I had reckoned that having taken part in the flu vaccination programme last winter, then I should be in good shape to do the Covid vaccinations, but a read through the form made it clear that this would be a bigger fish to fry. I put the form aside, intending to fill it in after watching the IPU advice webinar. I wasn’t free to watch the webinar live, so I planned to watch it over the following couple of days, but I always found a reason to put it off. Then it dawned on me that when push came to shove, I just didn’t want to get on board.

I was happy enough to do the flu jabs, and will most likely do them again next winter, but there were times that they were a monumental pain in the backside, and every downside that existed for the flu vaccination programme will be multiplied for the Covid vaccinations. The HSE cold-chain delivery service made a hames of organising supplies, or at least they did for me — it looks like some pharmacies got supplied just fine at the expense of pharmacists like me. Given how much else has been botched in the Covid vaccine roll-out, I don’t anticipate the pharmacy vaccination programme to be a walk in the park, unless you count walking in dark and lonely parks surrounded by gangs of drunken yobs.

I was able to fit the flu vaccinations into my routine day without too much hassle, but the Covid vaccinations would be a bigger demand on my time and energy

Even in the unlikely event of the cold-chain service successfully providing a smooth and efficient supply, the extra administrative work of booking enough patients to ensure no wastage of doses, and re-booking them for the follow-on appointments at specific dates, will be more troublesome than the flu vaccination process.

All of the above is manageable, and the problems are surmountable, but I just don’t have the enthusiasm to sink my teeth into the challenge. I was able to fit the flu vaccinations into my routine day without too much hassle, but the Covid vaccinations would be a bigger demand on my time and energy. I do think it is highly worthwhile for pharmacies to take part if they have the required resources of time and staff to manage the extra workload, but I certainly don’t. A considerable part of my reluctance to get involved is that the last year has been busy and draining, and the busy looks set to continue, so I’m happier to sit out this round. All the best to the pharmacists who do get stuck in to sticking it in.

Time for Change

There is an old adage that one should ‘never waste a good crisis’. This advice can be taken too far, as in the case of a UK government adviser Jo Moore (no relation) who sent an email to a colleague on the day of the 9/11 Twin Towers attack, saying: “It’s now a very good day to get out any news we want to bury.” Clearly, morally odious people will always find a way to abuse a situation, but normal people can also make positive changes in difficult times. I used to open my pharmacy for a couple of hours on a Sunday morning, which made me very little money while impacting negatively on my quality of life. When I decided to stop doing it, I attributed it to the effects of cuts imposed by Mary Harney.

The Covid crisis has had relatively few upsides, but it encouraged me to start closing for lunch. When we introduced the change last March, I thought we would get some grumbles, but we explained that we needed to shut for the hour to allow for a thorough cleaning of surfaces. To be fair, we did actually do a lot of wiping-down, but the uninterrupted break was a godsend. Now that it’s established and people are used to it, it’s just accepted as normal with no complaints.

Similarly, over the last year people have got so used to ordering prescriptions in advance that they tend to apologise if they haven’t done so and need something immediately. Even then, they will usually offer to call back in a few minutes rather than wait in the shop. Trying to implement this change in behaviour in normal times would have been difficult to achieve, but has just been adopted naturally in the last year.

People are Nice (mostly)

There are times it seems that the people who work with the public have a very negative view of the public, but I have found that as a general rule, people are nice. Even in the last 14 months, with all the disruption, stress and loss that we have seen, the vast majority of patients and customers I encounter are friendly, polite and appreciative of what we do to help them. We get enough chocolate dropped in at Christmas to keep us going until Easter. Of course we have a couple of patients that have a ‘handle with care’ warning label attached, but even those ones are okay. Maybe I’m just lucky and the ‘wrong sort’ of people don’t bother coming into my pharmacy but are out there aggravating the rest of you, so thanks for that — keep up the good work!

<strong>Fintan Moore</strong>
Fintan Moore

Fintan Moore graduated as a pharmacist in 1990 from TCD and currently runs a pharmacy in Clondalkin.