In 2009, health ministers from across Europe agreed to a new flu immunisation target: they would aim to vaccinate at least 75% of people in ‘at risk’ groups such as older people.
Around 10% of Europe’s population is infected by a flu virus each year, leading some to die as a result of complications while many thousands are hospitalised.
Preliminary data from the European Commission suggests that just two countries – the Netherlands and the United Kingdom – have hit the target. Ireland, like most countries, has fallen short, struggling to break the 60% mark.
However, Pamela Logan, Director of Pharmacy Services at the Irish Pharmacy Union (IPU), believes community pharmacies can play a key role in helping Ireland to hit its targets.
In the winter of 2011/2012, pharmacists in Ireland were granted permission to administer flu vaccines once they had undergone formal training. The initiative started slowly with around 9,000 flu vaccines administered by pharmacists during that season.
Now in its fourth year, pharmacy-based flu vaccination has gone from 9,125 to 51,560 in the most recent flu season. It is estimated that pharmacists are now administering around one in ten of all flu jabs in Ireland.
|Number of flu vaccinations
The Irish Pharmacy Union conducted a survey to help understand what kinds of people are having flu vaccines at their local pharmacy.
They found that around 77% had received a flu vaccine before while 23% of those receiving the flu vaccine in pharmacies were having the jab for the first time. Of those who had never been vaccinated against flu before, 83% were in an at-risk group.
“This shows the value of having the service in pharmacies. We are reaching people who are at risk,” says Logan.
She says that only around 57% of people aged over 65 in Ireland have the flu vaccine and there is no hard data on how many pregnant women are being vaccinated – despite a WHO recommendation that the flu vaccination during pregnancy should be a priority.
“We consider pregnant women to be an at-risk group. This is in line with what the WHO says but not all EU member states include them as a priority target group,” explains Logan.
Another target group for flu vaccination is healthcare workers. So how have pharmacy staff in Ireland fared?
“In our 2013-2014 survey we asked how many pharmacy staff had received the vaccine. Of those who responded, 65% said staff were vaccinated. This is very high – the average for healthcare workers is only around 15%,” Logan explains.
At the moment, pharmacies are focusing on vaccinating adults but, as childhood flu vaccination becomes more popular, there is scope for immunising children. In the UK, pilot programmes have seen children receive a vaccine as a nasal spray – something the IPU says its members would be open to.
Looking back on four years of pharmacy-based vaccination, Pamela Logan says the experience has been positive but that there is scope to do more. “Pharmacists are making a real contribution and, as more pharmacists are trained, we can help Ireland to reach its immunisation target in the years ahead.”