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.