Rapid realist review of the role of community pharmacy in the public health response to COVID-19

Ian Maidment, Emma Young, Maura MacPhee, Andrew Booth, Hadar Zaman, Juanita Breen, Andrea Hilton, Tony Kelly, Geoff Wong

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


INTRODUCTION: Community pharmacists and their teams have remained accessible to the public providing essential services despite immense pressures during the COVID-19 pandemic. They have successfully expanded the influenza vaccination programme and are now supporting the delivery of the COVID-19 vaccination roll-out.

AIM: This rapid realist review aims to understand how community pharmacy can most effectively deliver essential and advanced services, with a focus on vaccination, during the pandemic and in the future.

METHOD: An embryonic programme theory was generated using four diverse and complementary documents along with the expertise of the project team. Academic databases, preprint services and grey literature were searched and screened for documents meeting our inclusion criteria. The data were extracted from 103 documents to develop and refine a programme theory using a realist logic of analysis. Our analysis generated 13 context-mechanism-outcome configurations explaining when, why and how community pharmacy can support public health vaccination campaigns, maintain essential services during pandemics and capitalise on opportunities for expanded, sustainable public health service roles. The views of stakeholders including pharmacy users, pharmacists, pharmacy teams and other healthcare professionals were sought throughout to refine the 13 explanatory configurations.

RESULTS: The 13 context-mechanism-outcome configurations are organised according to decision makers, community pharmacy teams and community pharmacy users as key actors. Review findings include: supporting a clear role for community pharmacies in public health; clarifying pharmacists' legal and professional liabilities; involving pharmacy teams in service specification design; providing suitable guidance, adequate compensation and resources; and leveraging accessible, convenient locations of community pharmacy.

DISCUSSION: Community pharmacy has been able to offer key services during the pandemic. Decision makers must endorse, articulate and support a clear public health role for community pharmacy. We provide key recommendations for decision makers to optimise such a role during these unprecedented times and in the future.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere050043
JournalBMJ Open
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 16 Jun 2021

Bibliographical note

© Author(s) (or their employer(s)) 2021. Re-use permitted under CC BY. Published by BMJ. This is an open access article distributed in accordance with the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 Unported (CC BY 4.0) license, which permits others to copy, redistribute, remix, transform and build upon this work for any purpose, provided the original work is properly cited, a link to the licence is given, and indication of whether changes were made. See: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/.

Funding: Jointly funded by UKRI and NIHR COV0176.


  • COVID-19
  • COVID-19 Vaccines
  • Community Pharmacy Services
  • Humans
  • Pandemics
  • Pharmacies
  • Pharmacists
  • Professional Role
  • Public Health
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • organisation of health services
  • qualitative research


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