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Free flu jab service for healthcare staff launches in NI pharmacies

A pilot showed “the potential for community pharmacy” to offer the service to healthcare staff
A pilot showed “the potential for community pharmacy” to offer the service to healthcare staff

Community pharmacies in Northern Ireland will be able to give free NHS flu jabs to healthcare professionals, including pharmacy staff, as part of a new service launching this year.

The service, which is part of an expansion of the flu vaccination programme ahead of the 2020/21 season, will be the “first regionally available Health and Social Care Board (HSCB) community pharmacy flu vaccination service”, a Northern Ireland Department of Health (DoH) spokesperson told C+D last week (August 19).

The service was “successfully” piloted in the Western local commissioning group area last year. 

The pilot showed “the potential for community pharmacy” to offer a “convenient and accessible” way for health and social care staff “to access flu vaccination… within the community setting, particularly at evenings and weekends”, the DoH spokesperson said.

HSCB is working with the Public Health Agency (PHA) and Community Pharmacy Northern Ireland (CPNI) to develop the service, which participating community pharmacies will offer during the 2020-21 flu season.

“Further details on how to access the service will be provided by HSCB and PHA in due course,” the DoH added.

“Greater protection” for healthcare professionals

Commenting on the new service, CPNI CEO Gerard Greene told C+D yesterday (August 20) that “community pharmacists are glad to be able to provide this service and help ensure the vaccination programme is rolled out as widely as possible”.

“Community pharmacies are the most accessible part of the health service and [the] provision of this service will not only help the DoH reach target levels of uptake among health and social care workers, but it will also afford health and social care workers greater protection and reduce their risk of contracting flu when they are caring for patients,” Mr Greene added.

At this stage, the free NHS service offered by community pharmacies will be for health and social care staff only. Members of the public who are not eligible for a free vaccine can still receive private flu jabs at pharmacies, according to a CPNI spokesperson.

Expanded service

The new service for healthcare professionals will “complement the expanded flu vaccination programme announced by the [health] minister on August 18”, according to the DoH.

Last week (August 18), it was announced that the flu vaccination programme in Northern Ireland has been expanded to include “household contacts of those who received shielding letters during the COVID-19 pandemic; staff in independent care homes; and school children in year 8 in addition to the groups already eligible for a free flu jab. 

By December, those aged 50-64 could also become eligible to receive a free dose of flu vaccine, but this decision will depend on “vaccine availability”, the DoH said. The flu vaccination programme in Northern Ireland officially launches on October 1.

Northern Ireland was the last UK country to announce an expansion of its flu vaccination programme in light of COVID-19, preceded by England, Wales, and Scotland.

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