Community pharmacies in England have administered at least 4.8 million flu vaccinations during the 2021/2022 flu season, data from the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC) show.
The latest update represents a 73% increase on the total number of flu vaccinations delivered during the 2020/2021 flu season.
In July 2020, the UK government announced “the biggest flu vaccination programme in history”, with the addition of 30 million people eligible for a free flu vaccine in England.
As a result, community pharmacy delivered 60% more flu vaccines compared with the previous year; an increase from 1,721,711 in 2019/2020 to 2,766,332 in 2020/2021.
Then, in March 2021, the government announced that the expanded eligibility requirements would continue during the 2021/2022 flu season, with data collected by the PSNC showing that at least 4,792,725 vaccinations had been administered as of 24 March 2022.
The PSNC noted on its website that the data do not include vaccinations recorded using the Sonar IT system, which has not been available to report since the start of February 2022.
The figures also do not include vaccinations administered by pharmacies that do not use electronic systems to record vaccinations.
The data are also missing figures from the final week of the 2021/2022 flu season, which ran from 1 September 2021 to 31 March 2022.
Gareth Jones, director of corporate affairs at the National Pharmacy Association, said: “Vaccination is now a firmly established aspect of community pharmacy’s public health role and will continue to be so — our sector has shown throughout the pandemic that it rises to meet every challenge that is put in front of it.”
Thorrun Govind, chair of Royal Pharmaceutical Society English Pharmacy Board, said: “The fact that community pharmacy teams have administered 2 million more vaccines compared to 2020/2021 is testament to their hard work and commitment to helping the public.
“Noticeably, 46% of all vaccinations were in the 50 to 64-year-old categories, so this is likely to have an impact on the numbers vaccinated next year when this group no longer receive it for free.”
In guidance published on 2 March 2022, the government advised providers “to order sufficient volumes of vaccine to serve their eligible populations in order to provide coverage at least equal to and ideally exceeding 2021/2022 uptake levels” for the 2022/2023 flu vaccination programme.
However, it added the flu vaccination programme for 2022/2023 will be returning to “pre-pandemic recommendations”, meaning that free flu vaccines will no longer be offered to people aged 50–64 years in England.
This is in contrast to Welsh government plans, which indicated on 29 March 2022 that people aged 50–64 years would remain eligible for a free NHS flu vaccine in 2022/2023.
A Welsh health circular, sent on 29 March 2022, said: “This extended cohort is included for another year due to uncertainty around likely influenza activity for the next season, with continued risk of co-circulation of influenza and COVID-19.”
However, it added that the group would be the lowest priority among the identified risk groups.
A spokesperson for Community Pharmacy Wales said that the announcement to include people aged 50–64 years in the NHS flu vaccination programme again in Wales was “welcome”.