Open access article
The Royal Pharmaceutical Society has made this article free to access in order to help healthcare professionals stay informed about an issue of national importance.
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The government’s scientific panel that is advising ministers on the COVID-19 pandemic has recommended the government considers vaccinating “the entire UK population” against flu during the 2020/2021 season.
Meeting minutes for the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) said it advised the government on 30 April 2020 over “the need for more comprehensive availability and deployment of the seasonal flu vaccine this coming winter”.
The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) subsequently sent a letter to community pharmacies on 14 May 2020, saying that it was considering expanding the eligibility criteria for the NHS-funded flu vaccination programme in 2020/2021, warning of the likelihood of “co-circulation of COVID-19 and flu”.
However, the minutes, which were only made public on 29 May 2020, said SAGE advised that “a clear UK plan is required for the seasonal flu vaccine for winter 2020/2021, including consideration of whether to vaccinate the entire UK population”.
The minutes added that this was “in addition to the importance of developing a vaccine for COVID-19”.
However, pharmacy leaders previously told The Pharmaceutical Journal that measures to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 could cut capacity for flu vaccinations by two-thirds and called for further guidance on the flu vaccination service for 2020/2021.
Alastair Buxton, director of NHS services at the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee, said the 2020/2021 flu season will “bring a very new set of challenges” for community pharmacy, with the level of demand for vaccines in Australia also suggesting there will be “increased demand for vaccinations in the UK” as a result of the pandemic.
“If there is a significant increase in demand for vaccination from eligible patients, we expect there will be pressure on vaccine supplies, and we are also concerned about whether there will be adequate supplies of the personal protective equipment that health professionals will need when administering vaccines,” he added.
“The complexity of the global supply chain for flu vaccines means manufacturers cannot increase supply at short notice and increased demand across the world will increase pressure on availability, but community pharmacists will do all they can to help get their local communities vaccinated.”
A DHSC spokesperson told The Pharmaceutical Journal that further details on the vaccination service “will be published soon”.
“The flu vaccination programme will be a crucial part of preparing the UK for winter and [vaccines] are already freely available to those most at risk, including [people aged over 65 years], pregnant women, carers and primary school children,” they said.