The decision by the NHS in London to exclude pharmacies from the delivery of polio catch-up vaccines to primary school children in the capital has been met with surprise, with one community pharmacist describing the plan as ‘wrong’ and ‘not well thought-out’.

During the summer school term, the NHS in London will begin delivering catch-up vaccinations for polio and MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) for children aged one to 11 years via primary schools, GP practices and community clinics.

‘Pharmacists are not currently being asked to deliver the polio or MMR vaccine to children as part of this campaign,’ an NHS England spokesperson confirmed to The Pharmacist.

However, one London community pharmacist, Rajan Shah, who is also a pharmacy group director, told The Pharmacist that the involvement of pharmacies for delivery of the vaccine would have been a ‘logistical no-brainer’.

The polio programme is in response to the discovery of multiple vaccine-like-type-2 poliovirus isolates collected from the London Beckton Sewage Treatment Works between February and June 2022.

Further sampling had found the virus had spread in the community and evolved into vaccine-derived poliovirus type 2 (VDPV2) – which carries the risk of serious illness, such as paralysis, in people who are not fully vaccinated.

Efforts have since been made to improve polio vaccination coverage in London and the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) asked healthcare and school immunisation providers to ensure all patients were up to date with polio vaccines.

‘When the polio vaccination service was introduced in London last year, NHS England needed to react quickly, and the quickest way was to use the Covid vaccination centres already in existence that were set up to vaccinate children, including community pharmacies and pharmacy-run sites,’ Mr Shah told The Pharmacist.

‘We were one of the first ones to do children’s Covid vaccinations, we had everything in place anyway, and we were doing loads of children’s vaccinations at that time. So, we got the contract and we were able to do a lot of polio vaccinations to start with.’

Last month, the UKHSA said recent sewage sample testing had found no further VDPV2 isolates since early November, suggesting that transmission has been significantly reduced in the capital.

However, it warned childhood vaccination rates in some London boroughs were ‘still too low’ and therefore announced the latest catch-up vaccine campaign.

Mr Shah expressed his dismay that for the latest programme, polio vaccinations are being administered through schools’ teams, and community pharmacies have not been approached to deliver the jabs.

‘I think that’s wrong,’ he said. ‘NHS England should have commissioned pharmacies. It’s no different to last year, as we’ve still got the infrastructure, we’ve got the capability and we’ve got the expertise to be able to do this.

‘It’s a no-brainer. They should have gone down that route.’

Mr Shah also argued that delivery of the vaccination via community pharmacies would have suited parents better as they could have been present for the jabs.

‘A polio vaccination is actually an injection into the arm and usually it’s better if a parent or carer is there as children will be more at ease,’ he said. ‘Doing it in school, I’m not sure how much uptake they’ll have.’

Meanwhile, Alastair Buxton, PSNC director of NHS Services, agreed that community pharmacies are ‘one of the most popular and accessible places for people to receive a range of vaccinations’.

Mr Buxton added: ‘If the right funding and support is in place, many pharmacies could help provide a much wider range of NHS vaccination programmes – giving the public the convenience and service that they want and taking pressure off our general practice colleagues.’

The latest catch-up programme will only be available for children who are not fully up to date on their routine childhood vaccinations.