Flu vaccination service gets off to a flying start

Flu vaccination service gets off to a flying start

September 25, 2020

The first four weeks of the flu vaccination service have seen community pharmacists vaccinating over 650,000 NHS patientsthree times the number vaccinated in the same period last year.

Contractors and Local Pharmaceutical Committees (LPCs) have reported a massive increase in public demand for flu vaccination; in some cases, this has been ten times the usual demand.

This year’s vaccination effort represents a massive undertaking on the part of pharmacy teams to help protect at-risk patients – all part of the NHS programme to reduce the health impact of flu and the added risk to patients who also get infected with COVID-19.

Commenting on these initial figures, Simon Dukes, Chief Executive, PSNC said:

“Community pharmacy teams have been the first out of the blocks in the NHS’ effort to vaccinate a record number of people against flu. This is yet another excellent example of how community pharmacy can respond to the needs of patients and the NHS even in the midst of a global pandemic.

“Demand is clearly being driven by changes in patient’s attitudes towards the risk of respiratory infections as a result of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.  However, the accelerated start to the service this year does mean many pharmacies are temporarily out of stock of vaccine before further supplies arrive as part of staged deliveries. We are discussing with DHSC the best approach for distribution of the vaccines in the Government stockpile to community pharmacies and we are pushing for the sector to have a priority call on the stock as soon as it starts to arrive in November.”

Background information on the availability of flu vaccine

Public demand for flu vaccination is much higher than in previous years because people are recognising the increased personal risk of having flu, when COVID-19 is also circulating in the community. This demand was anticipated by DHSC, based on the experience of healthcare systems in the Southern Hemisphere, who were amid their flu season when the first COVID-19 peak was being experienced across the globe.

This significantly increased demand sits alongside a complex flu vaccination manufacturing process.  Usually the cycle of vaccine manufacture starts with orders being place by pharmacies and general practices, up to a year in advance of the first deliveries of vaccine.

Orders for vaccines for this year had all been placed many months before the start of the pandemic, and within the global vaccine manufacturing system, there is very limited capacity to flex orders once placed.

In some cases, pharmacies have reported using all of their ordered vaccines in the first few days and weeks of September, even when they had increased their order of vaccines compared to the previous year.

In the past, pharmacies that have run out of vaccine may have been able to obtain some additional supplies from manufacturers or from stock that has been purchased by pharmaceutical wholesalers. This stock is usually fairly limited, with the majority of vaccine stock being obtained via the pre-ordering process.

However, this year, with the increased global demand for vaccine, any additional stock held by manufacturers has already been allocated to customers and likewise, wholesaler’s stock has been in great demand.

The Government flu vaccine stockpile

As part of the Government’s COVID-19 response, the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) anticipated the increase in demand for vaccine and worked with several of the flu vaccine manufacturers to obtain additional supplies of vaccines for the UK.

Most of these supplies are not stock that would ordinarily be available in the UK, as they are the result of vaccine suppliers running their production cycles for longer than they had originally planned.

These vaccines will be delivered in November and December. PSNC is discussing with DHSC the approach to distribution of the stock which will be made available to community pharmacies, to ensure that it is available as quickly as possible to meet patient demand.


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