Pharmacies must ‘do all they can to help clear much higher flu volumes than in previous years,' as flu vaccinations will form ‘the backbone of the pharmacy winter service agenda’, community pharmacy membership organisation Numark has urged.

Eligibility for the flu vaccination is returning to pre-pandemic cohorts, so those aged 50 to 64 and secondary school children aged 11 to 15 - groups that were eligible in the 2021 to 2022 season - are not eligible for 2022 to2023.

‘This shouldn't deter community pharmacies from really demonstrating what they collectively can do to arm communities against flu,' Numark’s Jeremy Meader urged, adding: 'The sector must really work together and push to deliver services, especially flu vaccination programmes, so we continue to put the pressure on NHSE to value the role of community pharmacy.’

Mr Meader said: 'It is so important pharmacies do all they can to help clear much higher flu volumes than in previous years. Flu vaccinations will continue to form the backbone of the pharmacy winter service agenda, but pharmacy teams must actively seek out the best way to ensure volumes are met in their localities.'

Some pharmacies may have concerns over the potential for ‘wasted’ vaccine stock, said Numark member Jignesh Patel, ' with 'the real issue' about how the industry supplies the stock, rather than how much stock has been purchased.

'Pharmacies receive vaccine stocks after GPs and do not have access to purchase vaccines in bulk with priority delivery,' he explained, 'meaning some deliveries can come as late as the end of November, inevitably creating a bottleneck and making it difficult to predict whether the pharmacy will be left with dead stock.'

He said it is the role of the sector, including LPCs, to engage as early as possible with contractors, GPs and PCNs to determine how many vaccines they will require and avoid over ordering or under ordering.

'Ultimately, through forward-planning, building awareness and harnessing the abilities born in the pandemic, community pharmacy can be a major player in the flu vaccination programme,' he said.

The industry uniting and demonstrating its ability as flu vaccination providers will 'be instrumental in showing NHS England (NHSE) that the sector is deserving of investment,' as well as helping to 'secure an uptake of vaccinations across at-risk groups, and supporting GPs with their vaccination efforts,' he said.

'For this levelling up to occur, community pharmacy must overcome some barriers along the way, notably changing pharmacist outlooks on delivering vaccines.

'Many pharmacists don’t think they have the time to provide vaccines and prefer to provide them on an ad-hoc basis. Therefore, it is imperative pharmacies offer daily slots on an individual basis and encourage their teams to offer the vaccine to customers.'

Other potential barriers for provision of a flu vaccination service include the prerequisite of a consultation room, and that face-to-face training for both injection technique and basic life support must be completed every three years.

Mr Patel said: 'The 22/23 flu season presents a fantastic opportunity for the sector to really demonstrate to NHSE its power to deliver and get the recognition it deserves as the vital third pillar of the healthcare system.

'I challenge my fellow pharmacists this flu season to champion our vaccination capabilities and do all they can to showcase community pharmacy’s pivotal role within the NHS healthcare system.'

Community pharmacies in England administered 4.8 million flu vaccinations during the 2021/2022 flu season, data from the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC) has shown - 73% more than the 2.8 million vaccines the sector administered in the 2020/21 season.

In January, the UK Health Security Agency announced record numbers of people aged 65 and over had taken up the offer of a flu vaccine in England.

The Welsh Government has expanded its flu vaccination programme so that people over 50s and those in secondary school will remain eligible for a free vaccine this winter.