Pharmacists in London have been left dismayed by NHS England's refusal to commission them to deliver the nasal flu vaccine service.
As part of Public Health England's (PHE) flu campaign, which launched on Monday, all children aged two to four years will be offered the Fluenz 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 has commissioned them to do this.
LPC consortium Pharmacy London delivered a successful flu vaccine service last winter, and chief executive Rekha Shah said the organisation was "very disappointed" not to be able to offer the nasal spray.
Community pharmacies across the city had been trained to deliver Fluenz along with vaccines for shingles and pertussis before NHS England announced that it would not commission the service in London, Ms Shah told C+D this week. "The idea was that we were being commissioned, so we worked along those lines and got the training. In early August we heard that they've finally decided there's no access for us this year," she said.
Despite this, Ms Shah said Pharmacy London was successfully delivering standard vaccinations, with around 35,000 injections provided in under a month.
Thirteen of NHS England's area teams were delivering a pilot version of the childhood flu vaccination programme to school-age children, but only two – Arden, Herefordshire and Worcestershire, and Cumbria, Northumbria and Tyne & Wear – were delivering vaccinations in primary care environments such as community pharmacies, the commissioning body said.
The others were "testing school-based approaches", it said. It declined to comment on why pharmacists in London had not been commissioned to deliver the vaccine.
Cumbria LPC, the only LPC in its region to be commissioned, said that the spray vaccine was being offered in 98 of its pharmacies.
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 this year. PHE said nearly half of mothers were unaware of this "quick, effective and painless" vaccine and that only around 40 per cent of two- and three-year-olds had been vaccinated last year.
Pharmacist Vikesh Patel from Newham, London told C+D he was prepared to deliver Fluenz privately under a patient group directive for the second year in a row, but said he was concerned by a lack of enquiries about the vaccine. "The worrying thing is we haven't had any parents ask for it. The uptake seems to be very low and I think that's because not everyone knows," he told C+D.
PHE should signpost people to community pharmacies, making it clear that the vaccine was safe and could be taken by children of all religious faiths, he added.