Community pharmacies in England should have “robust plans” to provide flu vaccines to underserved populations during the 2021/2022 flu season, the government has said.
In their annual national influenza immunisation programme letter, published on 17 July 2021, the Department of Health and Social Care and Public Health England (PHE) said PHE would be continuing to monitor monthly immunisation data broken down by ethnic group, as it did for the first time in 2020/2021.
This year’s monitoring will also include data on Index of Multiple Deprivation (IMD) “which can be used to provide the best measure of relative deprivation as a snapshot in time”.
“We need to ensure those who are living in the most deprived areas, from ethnic minority and other underserved communities, have equitable uptake compared to the population as a whole,” the letter said.
“It will therefore require high quality, dedicated and interculturally competent engagement with local communities, employers, faith and advocacy groups.
“Providers are expected to ensure they have robust plans in place for tackling health inequalities for all underserved groups to ensure equality of access,” it added.
The request is reflected in the government’s updated “vaccine uptake ambitions” for 2021/2022, which say “no group or community should have a vaccine uptake that is more than 5% lower than the national average”.
Following the 2020/2021 flu season, a PHE report revealed that Bangladeshi patients had the highest uptake of the flu vaccine (59.8%), while patients recorded as having a Caribbean ethnicity had the lowest uptake (32.4%). Uptake across all ethnicities was 53.5%.
The uptake ambitions for 2021/2022 also increase the target for patients aged 65 years and over from 75% to 85%.
While community pharmacies do not have “call and recall” abilities for patients — because they do no have a patient list — the letter asks pharmacy teams to “proactively offer influenza vaccination to any patient they identify as being eligible to receive it should the patient present in the pharmacy for any reason”.
The letter also reiterates that patients aged 50–64 years will once again be offered a free flu vaccine as part of the national programme, as was first announced in April 2021.
The patient cohort was included in the national programme for the first time in 2020/2021 to mitigate the risk of flu and COVID-19 circulating at the same time.