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MPs call for greater pharmacy role in vaccine delivery amid uptake concerns

The parliamentary health and social care committee (HSCC) has said that it believes pharmacists should provide an expanded role in the delivery of vaccinations.

In a new report published today (July 27), the HSCC raised concerns that coverage rates for childhood vaccines in England were consistently below the UK average and that immunisation rates “have been consistently dropping in recent years”.


Read more: HSCC gives scathing review of DH progress on pharmacy pledges


It added that it was especially “concerned” by a warning from the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) earlier this month that London “could see a measles outbreak with tens of thousands of cases” if measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccination rates do not improve.


“We are concerned that this warning from UKHSA may not be the last such warning, if efforts to improve coverage are not stepped up considerably”, the report said.



Expand pharmacists’ role



The HSCC said that its inquiry into prevention in health and social care heard that “flexibility around the healthcare professionals administering vaccinations could provide a solution for those who struggle to access vaccination because of practical challenges”.


The committee said that it agrees with evidence it heard from Moderna that “pharmacists need to play a critical role in delivery of vaccines” to address challenges in access.


Stuart Carroll, director of market access and policy affairs at Moderna, told the inquiry that while there is “pharmacist delivery in a significant number of vaccines already”, there is a need to look “at how we can potentially expand that and increase flexibility and agility”, the report added.


Read more: Pharmacies should do 'a lot more' vaccinations, says shadow health sec


And it said that the HSCC also agrees with the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry’s (ABPI) suggestion that “the potential for a greater role for a non-traditional workforce should be explored” such as medical and nursing students as well as recently retired staff.


It recommended that the government consult on whether to amend legislation to give these groups “a greater role in routine immunisation delivery”.



“More flexible” delivery model needed



The report pointed to the “incredible success” of the COVID-19 vaccination programme, saying that “fundamental to that success was the wide range of people that were mobilised to deliver the vaccination”.


“This is a lesson that cannot be forgotten when considering routine immunisation programmes,” it added. 


The HSCC said that a “more flexible delivery model” is needed that “makes the most of the wide range of healthcare professionals” to ensure that no one misses out on vaccinations due to “practical challenges such as convenient times or locations”.


Read more: Deliver all adult vaccinations through community pharmacy, think tank urges


And it added that while “there is a need for national oversight of vaccination programmes”, the role of the government and NHS England (NHSE) “must be limited to the more strategic, national level”.


Local integrated care system (ICS) leaders, public health directors and health professionals “have the best knowledge of the factors driving lower uptakes and the interventions needed to try and tackle that” so ICS leadership must be supported to lead such initiatives, it said.



Upcoming NHSE vaccination strategy



“We want to see the government and NHSE place a laser-like focus on vaccination and ensure that the UK continues to lead the way,” the report said.


But it added that the HSCC was encouraged to hear from ministers that “improving access [and] making it as easy as possible for people to get a vaccination” is one of the three main strands being pursued by the government to try and keep uptake rates as high as possible.


The report welcomed NHSE’s “intention to set out an integrated vaccination and immunisation strategy” and said that it “must…set out how to make best use of the wide range of healthcare professionals able to administer vaccinations”.


Read more: Pharmacies in England administer 33m COVID-19 jabs

 

Earlier this year, Labour’s shadow health secretary Wes Streeting also said that he believes pharmacies should be responsible for doing "a lot more vaccination".


And in December, a think tank said that community pharmacy should be commissioned to deliver all adult vaccinations through National Enhanced Services.


Sector leaders have also called for decision makers to broaden the range of vaccination services offered via pharmacies.


Meanwhile, the HSCC also this week published its independent expert panel’s review of the government’s pharmacy policy commitments in England, finding that it has performed inadequately or needs improvement in meeting most of its pledges.

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