The uptake of adolescent vaccines offered to young people in school year 9 is yet to return to pre-pandemic levels, with 7% fewer teenagers being vaccinated against meningococcal disease, diphtheria, tetanus and polio.

The news comes after an influential committee of MPs heard how community pharmacy has the potential to provide a ‘real solution’ to vaccination access across the country.

In 2021/22, just 69% of young people in Year 9 received the teenage (Td/IPV) booster and the MenACWY vaccine, compared to 76% in the previous year, according to figures released today by the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA).

Dr Vanessa Saliba, consultant epidemiologist at UKHSA said that the fall in uptake was ‘due to the challenges posed by the pandemic’.

While ‘many young people who missed out on their vaccinations have already been caught up’, she said that ‘more needs to be done to ensure all those eligible are vaccinated’.

Before the pandemic, uptake of adolescent vaccines was on the rise.

In 2018/19, 87.6% of Year 9 students had had their Td/IPV booster, up from 85.5% in 2017/18, 83.0% in 2016/17 and 83.5% in 2015/16.

And 88.0% of 13–14-year-olds received the MenACWY vaccine in 2018/19, compared to 86.2% in 2017/18, 83.6% in 2016/17 and 84.1% in 2015/16.

Pharmacy can provide ‘real solution’ to vaccination access

The Td/IPV and MenACWY vaccines are provided by school vaccination teams.

But speaking last week at the Health and Social Care Committee’s inquiry into prevention in health and social care, MP and pharmacist Taiwo Owatemi suggested that widening the delivery of childhood vaccinations to other healthcare professionals could help make vaccines more accessible.

Moderna director Stuart Carroll agreed that a change to the current model needed to be ‘looked at’.

He said that community pharmacy could provide a ‘real solution’ to vaccination access due to its ‘walk in and out’, ‘flexible’ model.

‘Of course, we have pharmacist delivery in significant numbers of vaccines already, which is great. It is a case of looking at how we can potentially expand that and increase flexibility and agility,’ he added.

‘We need to have a delivery model which utilises the best of all healthcare professionals. Pharmacy is distinctly placed to do that because it is at the forefront of dealing with the public and patients, day in, day out,’ he said.

But the most recent polio vaccination catch-up programme for children in London was not delivered through community pharmacy.

Vaccine commissioning through local health boards

In Scotland, health boards have recently taken on responsibilities for vaccination. Also giving evidence at the inquiry, Ben Lucas, a board member of the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) highlighted this as ‘interesting’ and ‘a pioneering move’.

In England, as of this month, integrated care boards (ICB)s have taken on responsibility for commissioning local services through community pharmacy.

Mr Lucas said that ICSs in England could learn from the change in vaccine commissioning in Scotland.

‘We can see whether that is having a preferential effect for the Scottish population and whether it is delivering on that change. I think that will be interesting for ICSs to look into,’ he said.