Irish community pharmacists began delivering flu vaccines in the winter of 2011/2012. Along with a handful of other European countries, including Portugal and the UK, pharmacy-based vaccination is permitted in Ireland – provided pharmacists have completed a training course.
In late 2015, the Irish government introduced new laws which paved the way for pharmacists to administer vaccines against pneumococcal disease and shingles. The move was seen by some experts as a potential boost to adult immunisation rates.
When it comes to assessing the impact of pharmacy-based vaccination, there are two big questions: did the public embrace vaccination? And who availed of the service?
If the people being vaccinated in pharmacies are people who would otherwise have had the jab at their local clinic, the benefit of the policy might be questionable – given the cost of training pharmacists.
What the data say
Results from six seasons of pharmacy-based vaccination in Ireland show a clear upward trend. Starting from a low base of just over 9,000 flu vaccines in 2011/2012, the number climbed steadily as more pharmacists began to offer vaccination services and the public became accustomed to pharmacy-based vaccination.
There has also been steady growth in the proportion of flu vaccines delivered by pharmacists. Starting at below 2% six years ago, one in 10 flu vaccines is now administered in a pharmacy.
Data released by the Irish Pharmaceutical Union (IPU) – a representative body for community pharmacists in Ireland – show that around one in four people vaccinated by a pharmacist had never been vaccinated against flu before. 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,” Pamela Logan of the IPU told Vaccines Today.
One of the key issues for GPs and health officials to know which patients are vaccinated. This helps GPs to avoid purchasing vaccines that their patients will not avail of, and spares them sending reminders to patients who have been vaccinated at their local pharmacist.
Pharmacists must, by law, record all vaccinations on an official website. When patients tell their pharmacist the name of the doctor they are registered with, the pharmacist informs the GP.
Slow progress on new vaccines
However, while flu is seen as something of a success story, the number of pneumococcal and shingles vaccines delivered at pharmacies is very low. The 2016/2017 winter season was the first year during which trained pharmacists were permitted to offer these vaccines. Just 164 pneumococcal vaccinations and 64 shingles jabs were administered.
This is much lower than the first year of flu vaccination which had seen thousands of people avail of the new service. As growing numbers of pharmacists complete the training programme and public awareness grows, the numbers may rise.
The case of flu vaccination shows what’s possible.