Community pharmacy teams will be able to administer the flu vaccines to care home residents and staff in care homes during one single visit this winter, according to updated guidance.

In the second letter on this year’s expanded flu immunisation programme, NHS England said the change would help to ‘increase uptake rates and offer further protection to this vulnerable group of patients’.

NHS England is also intending to increase flu vaccination coverage this winter and achieve a minimum 75% uptake across all eligible groups, the letter said.

Heidi Wright, practice and policy lead at the Royal Pharmaceutical Society England (RPS), said: ‘Getting as many vaccines to those eligible for this year’s programme is more crucial than ever, as we prepare for winter pressures on the NHS and a potential second wave of Covid-19.

‘It makes sense for care home residents and staff to be vaccinated at the same time, and it’s encouraging to see pharmacists placed at the heart of helping protect some of our most vulnerable communities.’

New cohorts

Unlike previous years, children up to and including those in year 7 of secondary school, and household contacts of those on the NHS shielded patient list will be eligible for the vaccine this year.

NHS England's letter also said the age 50-64 cohort, who will also be eligible for the free vaccine for the first time, will not be able to get immunised until November/December subject to stock availability.

As in previous years, groups who will be eligible for the vaccine in September include people who are aged 65 years and over, people who are in a clinical risk group, pregnant women, children aged two and three years old, and all primary school children.

In addition to this, the letter said it planned for all frontline health and social care workers to receive a vaccination this season.

Extra supply of adult vaccine

NHS England also stressed that it is essential to ‘increase flu vaccination levels for those who are living in the most deprived areas and from BAME communities’.

‘We are expecting increased demand for the flu vaccine across all cohorts and we are also expanding the flu programme,’ the letter said.

To support this, the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) has procured extra issue supply of the adult vaccine and will issue guidance in September on how and when this can be accessed, it added.

Increased demand for vaccines

Last month, the Pharmacist reported that many UK flu manufacturers may not be able to meet all the increased demand for flu vaccines this year, due to the unprecedented demand for the vaccine worldwide.

To achieve widespread immunisation, NHS England is also looking at hiring extra staff to deliver vaccinations and other 'alternative delivery approaches', the letter said

To ensure all eligible patients are informed of their eligiblity and encouraged to get vaccinated, NHS England is also developing a national call and recall service. This will support local call and recall arrangements that are already in place.

Those who live in households with people on the NHS shielded patient list will not receive a call from providers to let them know they are eligible for the vaccine. However, they will be ‘offered the vaccine opportunistically, with the aim to offer [vaccines] to all identified,’ the letter said.

The letter added that pharmacy teams should follow existing guidance on immunisations during the pandemic.

To protect patients from Covid-19 during vaccinations in the pharmacy, NHS England said 'a range of different ways of delivering the flu immunisation programme this year should be considered'.

It said this should include:

● Careful appointment planning to minimise waiting times and maintain social distancing when attending.

● Providing patients with information in advance of their appointment to explain what to expect.

● Recalling at-risk patients if they do not attend, in line with contract requirements.

● Social distancing innovations such as drive-in vaccinations and ‘car as waiting room’ models, if possible.

● For those on the shielded patient list who are high risk for Covid-19 consider the use of home visits

Off-site provisions

The flu vaccination programme will be supported with a major new public facing marketing campaign to encourage uptake among the eligible groups, which is due to launch in October.

Last month, pharmacy teams were told to use the flu stock they have already ordered to deliver this year’s expanded flu programme in the first instance.

Pharmacy bodies have also called for urgent change to be made to the flu vaccination programme this winter, ahead of a potential second spike in coronavirus cases.

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