Irish pharmacists began offering flu vaccines in the winter of 2011/2012. The goal was to reach at-risk patients, such as older people and those with chronic conditions, who have regular contact with community pharmacists.
The big question was whether pharmacy-based vaccination would simple displace GP-based vaccination. Would it, observers wondered, lead to new people being vaccinated or just change the location of vaccination?
Now, Irish health service data provided to the Irish Pharmacy Union by the National Immunisation Office reveals that while the proportion of flu vaccines delivered by pharmacists has risen steadily to 13% in 2017/2018, the total number of people vaccinated has also increased.
In fact, the number of people vaccinated by GPs has actually increased over this period. This may be an indirect effect of advertising in the windows of community pharmacies, helping to highlight flu season and the need for vaccination.
‘GP flu vaccinations have continued to increase since pharmacists started vaccinating in 2011, which shows that pharmacists vaccinating increases awareness so that more people get vaccinated – up 29% since 2010/11,’ says Pamela Logan, Director of Pharmacy Services at IPU.
Overall, the rate of flu vaccination has increased steadily since the introduction of pharmacy-based vaccination in Ireland. In 2011/12, 702,500 doses of flu vaccine were delivered, while in 2017/2018, the total was 978,760.
The latest flu season was particularly successful for pharmacists with a 46% increase in the number of people getting their flu vaccine in community pharmacies, compared to the previous year.
Earlier research by the IPU during the 2014/2015 flu season showed that 23% of people vaccinated in retail pharmacies had not had the flu vaccine before. Pharmacists were reaching new people who might otherwise not have been protected. Of those 23%, the majority (83%) were in an at-risk group.
IPU President Daragh Connolly attributed the success of pharmacy-based vaccination to accessibility and convenience. ‘Pharmacists are the most accessible healthcare professional and, consequently, there are approximately 1.5 million visits to pharmacies by the public every week,’ he said.
By increasing vaccination rates, pharmacists are helping to take pressure off GPs and hospitals which are often under strain in the winter months.