Community pharmacies should order enough flu vaccines for the 2021–2022 season to “at least” match the record-breaking number of vaccines administered in 2020–2021, NHS England has said.
In a letter sent to community pharmacies, Stephen Powis, national medical director at NHS England, also said the cohorts of people eligible for a free flu vaccine could be extended again in 2021–2022.
For the 2020–2021 flu season, the Department of Health and Social Care extended the eligible cohorts to include patients aged between 50 and 64 years, households of those on the shielded patient list and children in the first year of secondary school.
So far, more than 2.5 million flu vaccinations have been delivered to eligible patients through community pharmacies in England — over 1 million more than were delivered by pharmacies during the entire 2019–2020 flu season.
Powis described this year’s NHS annual seasonal influenza vaccination programme as “the most successful in the history of the programme”, with 81% of patients aged 65 years and over receiving their free flu vaccination.
However, he added that vaccine manufacturers “will start to produce volumes of vaccines shortly based on the orders they have received” for the 2021–2022 season, and advised pharmacies to “plan their ordering on the basis of meeting at least the numbers of vaccinations they achieved during the 2020–2021 season”.
“As with 2020–2021, there may be policy developments to extend the eligible cohorts during 2021–2022,” he said.
“These developments will be informed by the levels and impact of COVID-19 infection to the population. In this situation, should additional cohorts be introduced, further advice will be communicated as soon as possible.”
The Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC) has said the letter “provides a lack of clarity on the eligible cohorts”, leaving contractors unable to judge the appropriate vaccine numbers to order to meet demand, without running the risk of wastage.
“Contractors may therefore want to determine the quantities of the various vaccines they will order informed by the vaccination numbers they achieved in the current season, but excluding the number of vaccinations that they administered to the 50–64 year old group of patients,” the PSNC said in a statement.
The PSNC also noted that the reimbursable vaccines listed in the NHS England letter are not the full range of vaccines recommended by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) in 2021–2022.
The JCVI had recommended the use of high-dose quadrivalent inactivated influenza (QIV-HD) vaccine in those aged 65 years and over, but “because of a significantly higher list price, QIV-HD is not eligible for reimbursement,” the letter said.
The JCVI had also recommended the quadrivalent recombinant influenza vaccine (QIVr) along with the quadrivalent influenza cell-culture vaccine (QIVc), ahead of the quadrivalent influenza egg-culture vaccine (QIVe), for adults aged 65 years and older, and at-risk adults aged under 65 years.
However, the NHS England letter said that the QIV-r is not eligible for reimbursement “at this stage”.
The QIV-r vaccine, which is marketed as Flublok (Sanofi), was given temporary authorisation for use in the UK in October 2020 to help support demand during the 2020–2021 flu season.