Royal Pharmaceutical Society

Mass vaccination against COVID-19 will become the norm

by Clare Morrison, RPS Director of Scotland and an alumni of UCL School of Pharmacy, summarises the 2021 RPS/UCL New Year lecture

Mass vaccination will become a regular feature of life in future, as the Covid virus becomes endemic worldwide, said Sir Roy Anderson, Professor of infectious disease epidemiology, Imperial College London, at this year’s RPS/UCL annual new year lecture. And he suggested that pharmacists can play a “hugely important role” in supporting vaccination.

“My guess is this virus will be endemic for many years to come, with seasonal bursts, depending on the level of vaccine uptake,” he said.

Sir Roy explained that with a vaccine efficacy of around 90% and a duration of protection of a year, then more than 90% of the population would need to be vaccinated to create herd immunity. This figure would come down with greater efficacy or duration of protection. However, he pointed out: “It is only when we get to high levels of vaccination above 80% that you see a reduction in transmission. If the duration of protection is short (one or two years), you have to get to 90% plus to stop transmission in winter.”

Pharmacy has an obvious role in Covid vaccination, he said. “If we go for repeated vaccinations then pharmacy is the natural place to go, like it is for influenza vaccines.” He added that Government did appear to be shifting its position from only using vaccination centres. “I suspect over the coming months there will be a substantial shift to pharmacy being a place for vaccination,” he said.

However, Sir Roy cautioned that a number of issues remain.

“Life will be better with mass vaccination but we must not be fooled: transmission will be continued if we don’t keep up social distancing,” he said. Google mobility data showed that although the first UK lockdown was very successful, the second one had little impact on mobility. He said that the early signs are that the current lockdown is having more of an effect, but he stressed the continued importance of social distancing.

Linking this to the new variant of Covid, he said there are three things that are influencing the current wave. First, our behaviours and social distancing. Second, winter and the fact that we are spending more time in enclosed spaces. And third the new variant. He said there is great uncertainty about which of these is causing the most growth in infection rates, pointing out: “Social distancing changes are as important, if not more important, than viral variants.”

Another key issue was the problem of vaccine hesitancy. “The Government has to address the thorny question of mandatory vaccination and certification,” he said.

And finally, vaccination is not just about what is done in an individual country. The “world is the unit for vaccination for this type of respiratory virus”, he said. Therefore richer countries have to look at the supply of vaccines for poorer parts of the world. “I would like to see more large scale manufacture of vaccines in lower income countries,” he said.

Finally, responding to a question about pharmacy’s role in the pandemic to date, he said he paid a “heartfelt compliment” to pharmacies because of their enormous social role during the first lockdown. Pharmacies were a place that was open, where people could get repeat medicines and knowledge about covid, as well as the the cultural importance of a friendly face, he said.

Click here to view the full lecture.