Pharmacists have greater success vaccinating children for flu than GPs, according to data from a government pilot.
Both professions delivered the Fluenz nasal spray vaccine to school-age children in a small number of pilot sites in 2014-15, with uptake recorded as 2.4 percentage points higher in pharmacies than in GP practices, data from Public Health England (PHE) showed.
The pilot, which trialled a programme to vaccinate children aged four to 13 years in the 2014-15 flu season, primarily involved the vaccine being delivered through schools.
However, two areas – Cumbria and Arden, Herefordshire and Worcestershire – used a pharmacy-based model with GP involvement. In these areas, uptake in pharmacies was 26.8%, compared with 24.4% in GP practices, PHE said in its report, published last week (April 7).
Uptake was “consistently higher” where the vaccine was delivered through schools, with an average level of 54.4%, PHE said.
The purpose of the pilot was to evaluate “different modes of vaccine delivery”, specifically school-based versus primary care, PHE said.
“The evaluation of the season will continue to inform the best strategy to roll out influenza vaccinations to all target ages in the seasons to come,” PHE added.
Spike in flu deaths
The data was released as the Office for National Statistics reported a spike in additional deaths in January 2015, around a third of which were caused by respiratory diseases, including flu.
More than 16,400 additional deaths could have been due to the ineffectiveness of that winter’s flu vaccine, PHE said.
PHE chief executive Duncan Selbie said the flu vaccine had been “less effective than usual, but still provided worthwhile protection”, and added that with so many older people vulnerable to flu, healthcare professionals “must strive to protect and support them”.
Numark service development manager Laura Reed stressed that both pharmacists and GPs are “working towards a common goal of reaching the minimum 75% uptake rate”.
“I would hope that communication between the professions will improve this year to achieve this shared objective,” added Ms Reed.
Benefits of pharmacy vaccination
PSNC director of NHS services Alastair Buxton told C+D that the negotiator would like to see pharmacists being commissioned to vaccinate "as wide a range of eligible NHS patients as possible".
"We will continue to urge commissioners to take into account all available evidence of the benefits of community pharmacy vaccination services," Mr Buxton added.
Child flu programmes – a potted history
• Following a recommendation by government advisers in 2012 to widen the flu vaccination programme to cover all two- to 17-year-olds, the vaccine was first offered nationally to all two- to three-year-olds through GP practices in 2013.
• In the same year, Public Health England commissioned a pilot programme in seven areas to cover school-aged children aged four to 11.