Community pharmacies across England will be commissioned to deliver the nasal flu vaccine next year, NHS England has confirmed.
The commissioning body had put "wheels in motion" to address supply issues that prevented pharmacies from being commissioned to deliver the Fluenz vaccine service this year, NHS England's head of immunisations Kenny Gibson told C+D last week (October 14).
Mr Gibson was "confident" that enough vaccine would be produced in time for pharmacies to offer Fluenz throughout next year's flu season, along with shingles, pertussis and pneumococcal vaccines, he told C+D in an exclusive interview.
As part of Public Health England's (PHE) flu campaign this year, which launched this month, all children aged two to four years will be offered the nasal vaccine. NHS England had the option of using community pharmacies to deliver the vaccine to school-age children, but only two of its area teams had commissioned this.
Restricted supply of the vaccine was due to how it was "shared across Europe", Mr Gibson said. There was an ongoing project to ensure that by 2017 enough vaccine would be produced to offer it to all children aged two to 19 years, he said.
Mr Gibson said he was aware of a "sense of disappointment" from pharmacists and parents because of the decision not to commission the sector to deliver a range of vaccines. The public wanted to be able to receive all their winter vaccines in one place and NHS England planned to create "more capacity" for pharmacies to offer this service.
"[Parents] know we will honour our commitment and we will see more vaccines being delivered in pharmacies and by pharmacists," Mr Gibson stressed.
Increasing the supply of vaccines could also enable pharmacists to make "clinical decisions" about whether vulnerable children outside the target age ranges should also be vaccinated, he said. There was a sense of "excitement" that from next year pharmacists would be seen as "family practitioners" who could potentially vaccinate people of all ages, he added.
Pharmacy London chief executive Rekha Shah, who told C+D earlier this month that the LPC consortium was "disappointed" not be commissioned to deliver Fluenz, welcomed NHS England's support for the sector. Pharmacy London would have liked to deliver Fluenz this winter, but the opportunity to deliver the vaccine next year was "brilliant", she said.