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LPC chief: Pharmacists must restore public faith in flu jabs

Around 50 per cent of vaccinations are effective in a typical year, says Public Health England

Pharmacists need to "maintain public confidence" in vaccinations following the news that only 3 per cent of this year's vaccinations have been effective, says Pharmacy London vice-chair Rekha Shah

A leading pharmacist has called on the sector to highlight the benefits of flu jabs following revelations that most vaccinations this year have been ineffective.

Only 3 per cent of 2014-15 vaccinations had protected against flu compared to a typical level of 50 per cent because the vaccine contained the wrong strain, Public Health England (PHE) announced last week (February 5).

Rekha Shah, vice-chair of LPC consortium Pharmacy London - which secured funding for pharmacy flu vaccinations across the capital - said pharmacists needed to “maintain public confidence” in the vaccinations for the rest of this year and future years in spite of the news.

Ms Shah, who is also chief executive of Kensington, Chelsea and Westminster LPC, told C+D it was important to make the public aware that the vaccination was “still the best protection to prevent serious illness and death each year”. All healthcare staff had a "major role to play" to spread this message, otherwise the news of the vaccine's failure could have a "huge detrimental effect", she added.

Pharmacy Voice echoed Ms Shah’s message that flu jabs were the “best protection” available. “Although the announcement from PHE may cause many to question the value of getting a flu vaccination, we hope that pharmacy can continue to increase its important role protecting many from harm each year,” it said.

Community pharmacist Stephen Eggleston posted on the C+D site that it was a “shame” PHE had announced the ineffectiveness of the vaccination on national media, as this was “a way to kill off the service”.

The wrong flu strain

A PHE study of 1,314 patients in primary care found the vaccine had only protected 3 per cent of those who received it. This was because the flu strain selected for this year’s vaccine had not matched with the main strain circulating across the UK, PHE said.

This more prevalent strain had caused “particular problems” for vulnerable groups such as the elderly and resulted in “care home outbreaks, hospitalisations and excess mortality in those over 65”, it reported.

A similar mismatch had been reported in the US and Canada, where the vaccine had also "unfortunately provided little protection", PHE added.

The current vaccine still protected against two strains of flu that could circulate this season, said PHE head of flu surveillance Richard Pebody, who urged anyone in at-risk groups to get vaccinated if they had not already.

“Throughout the last decade, there has generally been a good match between the strains of flu in the vaccine and those that subsequently circulate, so it’s crucial that these results do not discourage people in at-risk groups from having flu vaccinations – now or in the future,” he stressed.



How will PHE's announcement affect vaccination uptake in your area?


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Ryszard Cygan, Superintendent Pharmacist

Most NHS contracts for flu vaccinations go to GP's with pharmacies picking up a 'token' number of private customers. As usual pharmacy, is to be used to "restore confidence" because the cost to the NHS is errrrrr ZERO to do so! GP's are paid in the region of £8 to administer the vaccine and a further income of of £2 - 3 is earned from the discount received on the purchase of the vaccine. That's over £10 "profit" per patient. I'd leave it to the GP's to explain!

Michael Stewart, Community pharmacist

What about the 23 out of 27 CCGs where an NHS pharmacy service was commissioned this year? And Wales has a nationally commissioned flu service. The GPs are slowly losing their monopoly on flu due to the convenient and professional NHS service offered in pharmacy.

Ryszard Cygan, Superintendent Pharmacist

Is that because we get paid less???

Michael Stewart, Community pharmacist

I agree with Rekha Shah. Pharmacy is likely to be the first port of call for patients asking about effectiveness of the flu vaccine - we should encourage its uptake at every opportunity. The real fall-out from this will be next flu season when PHE suddenly finds that uptake has dropped, despite everyone's best efforts - public confidence in the vaccine will take a hit. It must be remembered that for at least the last decade the vaccine strains have closely matched the circulating strains and efficacy has been good. There is some guesswork in preparing vaccines with the right strains in time for the flu season, and this year we have been caught out by genetic drift. Key messages for patients should be that the vaccine will protect against other circulating flu strains, it will reduce the severity of symptoms if flu is contracted and can reduce the risk of hospitalisation and serious complications.

Z ZZzzzz, Information Technology

According to reports PHE were aware that this year's vaccine was going to be virtually ineffective by summer last year. If that is the case should anyone trust anything that Richard Pebody says. I wouldn't. If they knew then, we can only infer that to stop the rollout of the vaccine would have cost the NHS more in cancelled contracts than it did to let the whole circus carry on as usual with GPs being the big winners in terms of being paid.

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