NHS England says its new vaccination strategy is expected to “enable community pharmacy to play a greater role” in seasonal vaccination delivery.
The strategy, published on 12 December 2023, delegates commissioning responsibility for vaccination services from NHS England to integrated care boards (ICBs) by April 2025.
ICBs will be able to design local vaccination delivery networks providing “life-course and seasonal vaccinations, as well as outbreak response and catch-up campaigns, through the locations and settings that will best meet the needs of their population”.
This would include “a ‘standard’ core vaccination offer”, which will be “supplemented by bespoke, targeted outreach interventions to better provide for the needs of the parts of the population that are currently underserved by vaccination services”.
The strategy also says that NHS England aims to improve uptake of vaccinations by expanding the NHS app to include vaccination appointment booking and invitation alerts, as well as improved access to medical records and personal vaccines history.
It adds that the NHS and UK government are looking at centralising the procurement of flu vaccines and will undertake a cost–benefit analysis to explore whether this “could deliver better outcomes and address the existing clinical, operational and financial challenges associated with local procurement”.
Commenting on the strategy, Alastair Buxton, director of NHS services at Community Pharmacy England (CPE), said the strategy “provides new opportunities for community pharmacy to be able to seek to expand its role in a wider range of vaccination programmes,” adding that CPE would be working with local pharmaceutical committees to “ensure those opportunities can be seized at a local level”.
“The success of use of the NHS app and the national booking service for booking COVID-19 and flu vaccination appointments at pharmacies and primary care network sites has led to the plans to expand this functionality to other vaccination programmes,” he said.
“The current system where pharmacy owners purchase the [flu] vaccine ahead of the season has pros and cons for the sector, but the financial risk firmly sits with pharmacy owners. During the last two years, the size of that risk has increased with the short notice changes to the flu programme,” he added.
Malcolm Harrison, chief executive of the Company Chemists’ Association (CCA), welcomed the vaccination strategy, which he said “recognises the important role community pharmacy has to play in the success of vaccination programmes”.
He added: “Pharmacies have a strong track record in delivering the flu and COVID-19 vaccines, as well as in building confidence in, and uptake of, vaccines especially amongst harder-to-reach communities”.
The CCA’s prospectus for the future of community pharmacy, published in February 2023, estimated that pharmacies could administer a further 10 million vaccination appointments annually.
NHS England’s new vaccination strategy follows a consultation with stakeholders and the public that was launched in September 2022.
A report published on 27 July 2023 by the House of Commons Health and Social Care Committee said that an expansion of the use of pharmacists in delivering routine vaccinations could potentially help tackle falling vaccination rates in the UK.