Three of the UK’s largest pharmacy multiples have now suspended online bookings for flu vaccinations owing to high demand, as the government extends the eligibility for vaccination under the NHS programme from 1 December 2020.
In a statement on its website, Well pharmacy said it has suspended appointment booking both online and in-store, because it does not have enough stock “to meet the massive increase in demand that we have seen this year”.
A spokesperson for Well told The Pharmaceutical Journal that it suspended online bookings in October 2020 owing to “unprecedented demand”, but continues to offer flu vaccines through its community pharmacy teams.
They added that the multiple “currently has good availability of flu jabs and are focusing on a local walk-in service signposted through point of sale”.
“We will continue to prioritise the most at-risk groups within the communities we serve, including those who are 65 and over, pregnant women, [those who] have certain health conditions and our frontline health or social care workers,” they said.
In addition, LloydsPharmacy and Boots have also stopped taking online bookings for flu vaccines.
A spokesperson for LloydsPharmacy said patients were being advised to “contact their local store who will advise on [vaccine] availability and take their booking”.
“We have seen unprecedented demand for flu vaccines this year, and have administered a far greater number of vaccines compared to this time last year in order to meet this demand,” they said. “We have now secured thousands of additional vaccines, which are currently being distributed to all LloydsPharmacy stores across the UK.”
In September 2020, Boots suspended flu vaccination bookings for all ages, including those aged 65 and over, “to make sure we can vaccinate the patients who have already booked their appointment with us”.
Boots has invited patients to joint a waiting list so they can be notified when stock comes in.
On 2 November 2020, the Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC) published information on how community pharmacies can access additional flu vaccines from centralised stock.
This stock was initially only allowed to be used for at-risk patients and those aged over 65 years.
However, the DHSC announced on 20 November 2020 that people aged between 50 and 64 years would be offered a free flu vaccine from 1 December 2020.
The DHSC said that GPs, NHS trusts and pharmacists can order additional stock for this cohort from the “centrally secured government supply of over seven million vaccines”, adding that supplies of flu vaccine are sufficient to vaccinate 30 million people in England throughout this year’s flu season.
Pharmacy minister Jo Churchill said that “more vaccine is flowing into GPs and pharmacies throughout the next few months”.
England, like Wales and Scotland, has embarked upon its biggest flu vaccination programme in history. As of 19 November 2020, data published by the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee showed that 1,914,093 flu vaccines had already been given in community pharmacies in England — more than the 1,718,147 given in the whole of the 2019/2020 season.
Data published by the Welsh government on 7 October 2020 showed that community pharmacies in Wales delivered ten times more flu vaccines in September 2020 compared with the same month in 2019. In Scotland, community pharmacies have, for the first time, been commissioned to provide NHS flu vaccines — and as of October 2020, thousands of vaccines had been given in community pharmacies across four health board areas.