There have been over 45,000 deaths in the UK due to COVID-19. To protect the population, a new COVID-19 vaccine, as well as an antibody test, may need to be given to millions of people, if and when they become available.
Alongside this, the NHS faces its annual challenge of preventing and treating seasonal flu. Each winter, hundreds of thousands of people see their GP and tens of thousands are hospitalised because of flu. Annual deaths attributable to the illness in England range from 28,330 in 2014-15 to 1,692 in 2018-19 (up to week 15), according to Public Health England.
The NHS now faces the double challenge of protecting at-risk groups from both COVID-19 and flu, both of which target the respiratory system.
The flu vaccination is one of the most effective interventions the NHS has to reduce pressure on the health and social care system this winter. Every 1,000 people vaccinated will prevent one hospital admission, according to the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE). Analysis by the International Longevity Centre from 2018 of the cost-benefit of the flu vaccination estimated that the averted cost for hospitals of the vaccine could be more than £40 million per year.
Community pharmacies have administered the NHS flu vaccine in England as part of a national scheme since 2015. They have contributed to a considerable increase in uptake in NHS flu vaccinations during that time.
This year, the CCA and its members are building on the changes that the COVID-19 pandemic has made to the provision of primary care sector services. We are working in partnership with the NHS, including GPs, and other relevant organisations to support national efforts to increase flu vaccination rates.
Our policy paper, flu vaccinations during the pandemic, this month sets out the context for the flu vaccination programme and examines the potential role of community pharmacy in delivering the vaccine this year. Its recommendations for next steps are:
- changes to enable more flexibility in where and how the flu vaccine is administered
- a national public health campaign to ensure the public understands what to expect this year
- enough flu vaccinations and personal protective equipment (PPE) to be made available to all providers to ensure that everyone in an at-risk group can receive the vaccine
- recognition of the changes needed to be able to deliver a COVID-19 safe vaccination programme.
Malcolm Harrison is chief executive officer of the Company Chemists’ Association, which represents Boots, Lloydspharmacy, Well, Rowlands and Superdrug, as well as the pharmacy arms of Morrisons, Tesco and Asda