The Company Chemists’ Association (CCA) is calling for ‘urgent change’ to be made to the flu vaccination programme this winter, ahead of a potential second spike in coronavirus cases.

In a policy document published last week (July 10), the CCA said the NHS faces a ‘double challenge of protecting at-risk groups from both Covid-19 and the flu’ and made a series of recommendations to increase the number of people vaccinated and reduce hospital admissions.

The body also joined the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC) in requesting that changes be made ‘to enable more flexibility in where and how the flu vaccine is administered’.

The CCA suggested that pharmacies be given off-site provisions to administer the vaccination, such as town halls and places of worship so as to ‘allow the vaccine to be administered at scale, while freeing up community pharmacies to focus on vital services and medicine provision.’

Cost to pharmacies

The CCA called on the government to ensure sufficient flu vaccines and supplies of PPE to be made available to all providers so everyone in an at-risk group can receive the vaccine safety.

Other ‘necessary safety’ precautions, such as infection control and social distancing, must also be put in place, it said.

The representative body acknowledged that these extra precautions will come at a cost to pharmacies and therefore requested that the cost of the vaccine be reviewed.

It has also asked the government to start a national public health campaign to ‘ensure the public understand what to expect this year and have confidence in getting their vaccine.’

Higher demand

Malcolm Harrison, Chief Executive of the CCA, said: ‘The CCA is working with NHS England, the pharmacy sector and other primary care partners to overcome some of the barriers to changing how the flu vaccine is administered. We urgently need the government and NHS England to decide how it will work differently to deliver this year’s flu vaccine.

‘We know that we will need to innovate this year, not only to meet the usual demand for flu vaccinations, but to also deliver the government's anticipated broadening of those it wishes to receive the vaccine.’

He added: ‘The flu vaccine will be vital ammunition this winter in the NHS’s fight against the twin threats of flu and Covid-19. Decisions made now will influence the success of the flu programme in England, which begins in September.’

Expanding criteria

At an NPA conference held yesterday (13 July), health secretary Matt Hancock announced that this year would be ‘the biggest flu vaccination programme in history’.

He said: ‘We’re currently planning in detail for winter and we’re expecting high demand, and pharmacies will play a critical role.’

The Department of Health has not confirmed a widespread flu immunisation programme. However, last month it sent a letter to community pharmacies and general practices in England to say the government considerations for expanding the eligibility criteria for NHS-funded flu vaccinations were ‘underway’.

Currently, those who qualify for the NHS-funded flu vaccine include all children between two to 10 years old, those in clinically at-risk groups between the ages of six months and 65 years, pregnant women, people living in care homes, and all health and social care staff.

Last month, the Pharmacist reported that pharmaceutical manufacturers may not be able to meet all increased demand for flu vaccines this year, during an unprecedented demand for the vaccine worldwide