GPs and community pharmacies are being asked to ‘urgently review’ vaccine orders for the forthcoming flu season as Government discussions about potentially expanding the immunisation programme are underway.
They should ensure they have enough vaccines to ‘meet at least national ambitions and previous uptakes rates, whichever is highest’, according to Public Health England.
If stocks are not sufficient, orders may need to be increased with suppliers, said PHE in a letter issued today, which also warned there may be increased demand from all existing groups of people eligible for the vaccine.
Primary care providers should aim to schedule their immunisation services to match vaccine supply, usually from September, and complete vaccination by the end of November.
Immunisation service specifications require practices to proactively call at-risk patients and this year revised rules GPs must also contact parents of all eligible two and three-year-old children about getting their children’s vaccines at their practice.
The PHE letter reminded practices they must only use the specific vaccines recommended in NHS England guidance in order to be reimbursed.
In the letter sent by PHE and the Department of Health and Social Care,health officials said they recognise that delivering the flu immunisation programme is likely to be ‘more challenging’ due to the impact of Covid-19 on health and social care services.
It noted that staff absences in combination with uncertainties about how long social distancing and school closure policies would be in place were adding to the challenges.
Further guidance about how to manage the immunisation programme to reflect these circumstances will be issued nearer the planned start of the programme in September 2020, said the letter.
It added: ‘Discussions to consider expansion of the flu programme for this autumn are underway, and we will write again with any changes in due course.’
In addition, health officials said they expect universal vaccination of health and care workers, with further guidance on this coming out in ‘due course’.
The letter stressed that health and care services may be faced with both Covid-19 and flu this winter and said it was ‘more important than ever’ to deliver flu vaccination.
The letter said: ‘Those most at risk from flu are also most vulnerable to Covid-19. We must do all we can to help protect them this winter.’
It added: ‘In light of Covid-19, we ask primary care providers (general practices and community pharmacies) to urgently review your vaccine orders now to make sure the number of vaccines ordered meet at least national ambitions and previous uptakes rates, whichever is highest.
‘Please do so across your local primary care network ensuring that the clinical commissioning group flu lead is fully appraised of the position.’