The community pharmacy contribution to vaccination at the heart of local communities

Community pharmacists are highly accessible healthcare professionals working in primary care and have a vital role to play in achieving sufficient uptake of vaccination in collaboration with allied healthcare professionals. They are highly trained healthcare professionals and a trusted source of information for the public, which is a vital component for helping to address vaccine hesitancy in local communities. As such, they can make an important contribution through identifying patients in at risk groups, reminding people on life-course and travel vaccinations as well as increasing public confidence in vaccination.

The proximity of pharmacies within local communities  also offers opportunities to increase access and convenience by complementing established vaccination services where appropriate. The COVID-19 pandemic, and especially the risk of a “twindemic” with influenza, has also required healthcare systems across Europe to re-think the organisation of immunisation services.

Today, in 8 European countries[1] community pharmacists can administer flu vaccines to citizens in pharmacies. These services have demonstrated their potential to successfully reach people who had never been vaccinated for flu before and to increase overall vaccination delivery rates whilst showing high satisfaction rates from users.[2] In Ireland, survey results show that provision via Irish community pharmacies increases coverage for people who had never received the vaccination before (one in six), with 99% of patients indicating that they would return to the pharmacy for their next vaccination. Patient satisfaction with the service is very positive with 93% of patients rating the service either 9/10 or 10/10.[3]  In France, community pharmacists vaccinated more than 3,7 million people against the flu between mid-October 2020 and the beginning of January 2021, meaning 1 flu vaccination out of 3 was performed by community pharmacists. 

Moreover, community pharmacists in 7 European countries[4], most recently in Italy and Poland, have been enabled to administer COVID-19 vaccines in pharmacies after having followed the required training programme, and several other European countries are conducting pilots to evaluate the implementation of pharmacy-based immunisation services.  In addition, in some European countries, pharmacists have increased access to flu vaccination by expanding powers in relation to the dispensing of flu vaccinations, including the supply of flu vaccines to at risk groups without the prior need for a prescription.7

Community pharmacists are also contributing in various other meaningful ways to COVID-19 vaccination campaigns such as through supply management tasks and vaccines preparation in e.g. mass vaccination centres, the distribution of vaccines to care structures and providing reliable and understandable information and advice to the general public. In particular, pharmacists have also often been the first trusted source for patients to address questions around the safety and effectiveness of vaccines. In that respect, community pharmacists are also excellently positioned to report suspected adverse reactions from COVID-19 vaccines and as such are key contributors to the EU Pharmacovigilance system. Moreover, successful experiences from e.g. Belgium[5] have shown that community pharmacists can make a positive impact when pro-actively approaching patients who have not taken a COVID-19 vaccine yet.

After all, It is crucial that information provision to the public on vaccination is done as part of an integrated, consistent and multidisciplinary approach across the different healthcare settings so that wherever people access the healthcare system, they receive qualitative information on immunisation and that they can be identified as a potential risk/target group for vaccination. The use of shared electronic vaccination/health records, where not implemented yet, can improve the efficiency of such communication in the future and strongly support healthcare professionals efforts to achieve sufficient vaccine uptake within their local communities.

[1] Denmark, France, Greece, Ireland, Norway, Portugal, Switzerland, United Kingdom.

[2] PGEU Best Practice Paper on Antimicrobial Resistance, accessible here.

[3] Pharmaceutical Society of Ireland report Patient Feedback on the Flu Vaccination Service Provided in Pharmacies, accessible here.

[4] France, Ireland, Italy, Norway, Poland, Switzerland, United Kingdom.