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Pharmacy First could ‘make it even easier’ to deliver MMR jabs, says minister

The government has said that Pharmacy First could help more people receive the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine, amid the current measles outbreak.

Health minister Maria Caulfield this week (January 22) said in a House of Commons debate that the new Pharmacy First service could “make it even easier for people to come forward” and get vaccinated against MMR.

She made the comments in response to health and social care committee (HSCC) chair Steve Brine, who suggested that there should be a “much more flexible delivery model for vaccinations”, including through pharmacies.

It comes after the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) declared a national incident in response to an increase in confirmed cases of measles earlier this month.

Read more: Half of pharmacists warn not enough staff to ‘safely’ provide Pharmacy First

Speaking in the debate on the “recent surge” in cases, Mr Brine asked Ms Caulfield about how she would “inject more urgency” into the MMR vaccine rollout and whether she would “commit…to a much more flexible delivery model for vaccinations, including through pharmacy”.

The minister said that Mr Brine “is right about using pharmacy, with Pharmacy First as a model, to make it even easier for people to come forward”.

And she later added that there are “plenty of vaccination spaces” including pharmacies, but that the problem was people not coming forward for the jab.


Government must “commit” to pharmacy MMR jabs


Responding to a ministerial statement published on Monday (January 22), Mr Brine reiterated that “the government must now commit to [a] flexible delivery model, including through pharmacy”, to boost MMR vaccination uptake.

He said that the government’s “long-awaited” vaccination strategy, published in last month, had “picked up on…the need for a more flexible delivery model to overcome practical challenges in getting protection to the right people at the right time and in the right place”.

Read more: UPDATED: NHSE vaccination strategy points to ‘greater role’ for community pharmacy

“With warnings of the risk of a spread of measles cases, there must be a real drive now to reach communities where the vaccination message might not have got through,” he added.

Meanwhile, Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies (AIMp) chief executive Dr Leyla Hannbeck said that “if commissioned appropriately”, community pharmacies “can play a bigger role in the NHS vaccination programme, including vaccinating against measles”.


“One of the most infectious diseases worldwide”


NHS figures show that “almost 3.5 million children” aged under 16 are unprotected from MMR, Ms Caulfield told MPs attending the debate.

She added that one infected child in a classroom can infect up to nine other unvaccinated children, making measles “one of the most infectious diseases worldwide”.

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

One in five children with measles will need to be admitted to hospital for treatment “putting additional pressure on the NHS”, while for unvaccinated adults it can also have “serious and potentially life-changing” consequences, the minister said.

One million letters have been delivered to parents of unvaccinated children across London and the West Midlands – the area of highest concern - Ms Caulfield said.


“Not a new issue”


Although Ms Caulfield announced that there had been a 10% increase in MMR vaccination uptake in the past 12 months, she added that there has been “a gradual decline” in coverage over the past ten years and that uptake is “not a new issue”.

She said that the government is “undoing much of the damage done” to members of the public born between 1998 and 2004, when Dr Andrew Wakefield’s “discredited paper” on the risks of MMR led to a decrease in vaccine uptake.

The COVID-19 pandemic also “disrupted” the routine vaccination programme so that it fell below WHO-recommended levels, while non-porcine and halal vaccines should be “routinely offered” to patients to address “the concerns of the Jewish and Muslim communities”, Ms Caulfield added.

Read more: How to optimise the COVID-19 vaccination service in your pharmacy

While the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends at least 95% coverage to maintain population coverage, the UK’s current MMR reach is 89.3% for the first dose at 24 months and 84.5% for the second dose at five years, according to the health minister.

The first dose of the vaccine will provide “roughly 92% immunity” within two weeks and the second “roughly 98%” for the rest of their lives, she added.

It comes after the new NHS England (NHSE) vaccination strategy last month set out an integral role for community pharmacy, as well as the possibility of centralised flu jab procurement.

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