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Extra flu jab added to 2021/22 season, as pharmacies deliver nearly 3m

NHSE&I did not specify an uptake ambition for the 50-64 cohort for the 2021/22 flu season
NHSE&I did not specify an uptake ambition for the 50-64 cohort for the 2021/22 flu season

Pharmacies will be reimbursed for an extra flu vaccine – QIVr – next season, NHSE&I has confirmed, as the sector's flu vaccination count reaches nearly 3 million for 2020/21.

As of March 30, a total of 2,617,566 people had been vaccinated against the seasonal flu in community pharmacies, according to data collected by the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC).

PSNC said these figures may be higher than reported because they only account for contractors who use the PharmOutcomes and Sonar systems to record their uptake of flu vaccinations. A more accurate number of community pharmacy administered flu jabs, which is expected to be published later in the year by the NHS Business Services Authority, is likely to be closer to three million, according to PSNC estimates.

This is an increase of more than one million vaccinations since last season, PSNC CEO Simon Dukes wrote in a blog published last month (March 26). This increase accounts for 25% of the overall growth in the vaccination scheme, which surpasses the growth experienced by GPs, he said.

Growth is “nothing short of phenomenal”

“To achieve this sort of year-on year growth in any circumstances would be impressive, but to do so during a pandemic, alongside the severe financial pressures contractors are under, while continuing to dispense a billion prescriptions and offer healthcare advice to more than a million people every week, is nothing short of phenomenal,” Mr Dukes said.

“Thanks go to all community pharmacy contractors and their teams, and LPCs for working so hard to make this service a success,” he added.

Pharmacies usually account for around 10-12% of the growth in the vaccination service each year, according to data collected by PSNC.

Greater vaccination role

Mr Dukes argued that these figures highlight the potential for community pharmacy to take on a bigger role in future NHS vaccination programmes.

Pharmacies will be “expected to play a strong role in vaccinating the 50-64-year-old cohorts” – which NHS England and NHS Improvement (NHSE&I) confirmed last week (April 1) will be vaccinated under the national influenza programme for the second year running.

This is “to ensure the availability of general practice capacity to continue their focus on flu and COVID vaccination of the most vulnerable clinical cohorts”, NHSE&I national medical director Stephen Powis wrote in an updated flu vaccination letter to primary care providers.

However, NHSE&I did not specify an uptake ambition for the 50-64 cohort.

Pharmacies should plan their flu stock ordering to be able to “at least” match the number of vaccinations they administered during the 2020/21 flu season, Professor Powis added.

Reimbursable vaccines

The following Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI)-recommended vaccines will be reimbursed for the 2021/22 season: 

Those aged 65 years and over:

  • aQIV
  • QIVc/QIVr (where aQIV is not available)

Those aged 50-64 years:

  • QIVc/QIVr
  • QIVe (where QIVc or QIVr is not available)

At-risk adults, including pregnant women, aged 18 to less than 65 years:

  • QIVc/QIVr
  • QIVe (where QIVc or QIVr is not available)

QIVr was not among the vaccines eligible for reimbursement. However, “doses of QIVr are now available to order in limited quantities and will be reimbursed”, NHSE&I specified.

1 Comments
Question: 
How many doses of flu vaccine will you order for the 2021/22 season?

Paul Brett, Community pharmacist

Have NHSE&I considered that pharmacies may not be comfortable ordering enough to “at least” match the number of vaccinations they administered during the 2020/21 flu season? If winter Covid booster doses are to be administered alongside this year's flu jabs - and the english pharmacy network has yet to be included in the covid vaccination program, with no confirmation that they ever will be - isn't there a risk that a significant proportion of NHS patients will opt to visit a provider who can administer both at the same appointment, rather than have to attend two separate appointments? This could leave pharmacies with just the private flu cohort and possibly a few 50-64 year-olds - potentially nowhere near the numbers they achieved last season.

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