MPs have said that expansion of the use of pharmacists in delivering routine vaccinations should be explored as part of a plan to tackle falling vaccination rates in the UK.
In its first report in a series on health prevention, published on 27 July 2023, the House of Commons Health and Social Care Committee said that it agreed with evidence presented to its inquiry that “pharmacists need to play a critical role in delivery of vaccines”.
In the report, the committee said it supported evidence given by Stuart Carroll, director of market access and policy affairs at Moderna, who told the committee on 18 April 2023 that while there is “pharmacist delivery in a significant number of vaccines already”, there is a need to look “at how we can potentially expand that and increase flexibility and agility”.
The committee said it also agreed with evidence given to its inquiry by the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) that “the potential for a greater role for a non-traditional workforce should be explored” in terms of vaccination provision.
The committee also noted the expansion of the healthcare workforce legally able to vaccinate that was made during the COVID-19 pandemic.
More widely, the committee’s report called for urgent action to tackle declining vaccination rates among children, citing concern that England did not meet the 95% target for any of the routine childhood immunisations in 2021/2022 .
The committee also noted that England was the only nation of the UK where coverage for all childhood vaccines at all ages was below target and coverage rates were consistently below the UK average.
“We were also concerned to hear from [campaign group] RESULTS UK that ‘recent NHS data show that vaccine coverage fell in 13 out of the 14 routine programmes for children up to five-years-old in 2021/2022, and immunisation rates have been consistently dropping in recent years’,” the report said.
“The impact that low rates of vaccine coverage can have was plain to see on 14 July 2023, when the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) published data suggesting that, unless MMR vaccination rates improve, ‘London could see a measles outbreak with tens of thousands of cases‘,” it added.
In June 2022, NHS England announced the development of an “integrated vaccination and immunisation strategy”, which would aim “to design a future model that will maximise uptake, reduce unwarranted variation and help people protect themselves and their families”.
The select committee said that a greater flexibility in the workforce able to provide routine vaccination “stood out” as one area that should be addressed in this strategy.
Commenting on the report, Alastair Buxton, director of NHS services at Community Pharmacy England, said: “We wholeheartedly agree that, subject to the right funding and support, the easily accessible network of pharmacies could provide a much wider range of NHS vaccination programmes.
“Community pharmacies are already one of the most popular and accessible places for people to receive vaccinations, such as COVID-19 and flu, and we have been advocating for them to have a bigger role in NHS programmes, giving the public the convenience and service that they want and taking pressure off our general practice colleagues.”
James Davies, director for England at the Royal Pharmaceutical Society, commented: “Pharmacists have a brilliant track record of delivering vaccination programmes, providing millions of flu vaccinations each year, and playing a crucial part in the success of the COVID-19 vaccination roll-out.
“Pharmacies are at the heart of communities and expanding vaccination services will reduce health inequalities. This is especially the case in deprived areas where trusted local pharmacists have proven their ability to address vaccine hesitancy in their communities.
Malcolm Harrison, chief executive of the Company Chemists’ Association, said: “Community pharmacy can be the home for all vaccinations. We have an amazing track record — over the 2022/2023 winter vaccination programme, pharmacies administered a record-breaking 5 million+ flu vaccinations.
“Community pharmacy offers an accessible and convenient place for patients to receive vaccinations. In the longer term, we want to see community pharmacy involved in all vaccination programmes and helping to drive uptake, especially for those in deprived communities.”