It looks like it is going to be another bumper year for flu vaccinations. The number of flu vaccinations administered by community pharmacists under the NHS Advanced Service grew by 75% in 2021/2022 compared with the previous year, with nearly 4.9 million administrations being claimed by the end of March 2022. This was alongside delivering 22 million COVID-19 vaccinations in the year to January 2022, which was 20% of all COVID-19 vaccinations delivered in England in that period.
The public is more aware of the benefits of vaccination owing to the continuous efforts from healthcare professionals to deliver important messages, both in a clinical setting and through social media channels. We have all seen these benefits, personally and professionally, as the COVID-19 vaccine has resulted in milder and reduced symptoms. Patients have rushed to pre-book their vaccination slots, the kind of excitement seen during the Boxing Day high street sales.
This would not have been possible without the unregistered workforce and St John’s Ambulance volunteers who have shown great enthusiasm in getting trained to deliver on the vaccination programme. It has been challenging in pharmacies with staff needing to self-isolate, sickness and lots of movement between sectors. With other services added — such as hypertension case finding and the discharge medicine service — more patients seeking advice from readily available pharmacists on the high street, as well as the need to check prescriptions continuing, providing a vaccination service is not easy.
A group of academics at the University of Reading School of Pharmacy wanted to do something to help. We were awarded funding from the university to train some of our pharmacy students to become vaccinators. Pharmacy students are a perfect group to become part of the unregistered workforce. They are beginning to learn both the clinical and practical skills needed to administer vaccinations and being directly involved in the care of patients is unrivalled experience. It is a perfect opportunity to put what they have learnt in the classroom to test in real life — it gives them a purpose and insight into why the theory is important, and placements in general are likely to increase their chances of success in practical exams, such as OSCEs, because putting theory into practice allows students to understand what the role entails and increases their confidence.
We received £1,500 funding and approached training provider ECG to deliver the training. Students had to write an expression of interest and a group of 20 students were selected. They had an enjoyable session and are all now vaccination trained.
With the current workload, healthcare teams are stretched to capacity and it is difficult to imagine what it is going to be like during vaccination season with patients eager to have protection ahead of winter. We have a potential workforce ready to help deliver the service reducing the impact on pharmacy teams. If NHS England continues to allow unregistered staff to vaccinate, I would urge central government to invest in our students and reduce the burden on the NHS system.
Pharmacy schools up and down the country are looking to increase placement opportunities for students as part of the new programme, which will see students become independent prescribers on registration. This is a perfect opportunity to get our students out into care homes, vaccination centres and community pharmacies to deliver upon what is set to be the biggest vaccination season and show yet again pharmacy is up to the challenge.
COVID-19 has been difficult in a lot of ways for all of us but there are some things that have gone well, and we should keep — unregistered vaccinators being one of them.
Box: Student feedback
Third-year pharmacy student, Bablin Kaur, who successfully completed the vaccination training, commented:
“I applied to do the vaccine training programme as administering vaccines is a key role that pharmacists carry out. This training has allowed me to gain an understanding of how to provide CPR, respond to anaphylaxis and administer a vaccine.
“The COVID-19 pandemic and efflux of the COVID-19 vaccinations has created a window of opportunity for healthcare students to work in this sector. However, owing to the lack of knowledge and training in administration, it is difficult to apply for these jobs. This training has provided me with a qualification to open up opportunities to apply for jobs in vaccination centres, which will further enhance my skills and confidence in administering specific vaccines.”
Gurinder Singh, lecturer in pharmacy practice; Vicky Kleanthous, lecturer in pharmacy practice; Sue Slade, lecturer in clinical practice; Kate Fletcher, associate professor of pharmacy education and practice; all at the University of Reading