London pharmacists remain uncertain whether they will be able to vaccinate children in the next flu season.
All children in school years one and two will be eligible to receive the Fluenz nasal vaccine for the first time this year, the Department of Health (DH) announced in its latest flu plan published last week. Most of these vaccinations would be delivered in schools, although NHS England would also have the option to commission community pharmacies, it said.
But pharmacists in London would not be able to vaccinate this age group unless they had access to the Fluenz vaccine, said Rekha Shah, chief executive of LPC consortium Pharmacy London.
Community pharmacies across the city had been trained to deliver the spray vaccine ahead of the last flu season, but it had not been made available to them, she said. Ms Shah was not aware the DH had decided to stock pharmacies with the vaccine this year, she stressed.
“Has the DH changed its minds? Are we going to have access?” she said.
NHS England head of immunisations Kenny Gibson said the decision on whether to commission pharmacists to deliver the vaccine to children would be affected by an evaluation of London’s most recent flu campaign, due to be published on April 8.
“We need to look at that evaluation to see if community pharmacy can build capacity to support the roll-out of children’s flu vaccinations,” he told C+D.
Once the evaluation was published, the 32 clinical commissioning groups across London would take “another few weeks” to design a model that could vaccinate all eligible children, Mr Gibson said.
“Our preferred option would always be GP-registered vaccinations. But given that a growing percentage of children in London don’t have a GP, we need to design something different and that’s why we’re considering pharmacy alongside other alternative providers,” he said.
This problem was “not unique to London”, and other large cities might consider a similar strategy, he added.
Child vaccinations – the story so far
Children aged two and three years have been eligible to receive the nasal spray vaccination since 2013, and the service was expanded to include four-year-olds last year. NHS England intends to extend the vaccination programme to older children in future years, it said in its latest flu strategy.
Thirteen of NHS England’s area teams delivered a pilot version of the childhood flu vaccination programme to school-age children last year, but only two – Arden, Herefordshire and Worcestershire, and Cumbria, Northumbria and Tyne & Wear – delivered vaccinations in primary care environments such as community pharmacies.