In the light of the declining vaccination coverage rates across Europe, European societies depend now more than ever on a strong and unified healthcare workforce to help combatting the issues of low vaccination confidence and trust, misinformation and the remaining barriers to convenient access.
Community pharmacists have always advised patients on the importance and/or appropriateness of immunisation, identified and reminded target groups for vaccination, and of course dispensed and advised on vaccines.
Most pharmacists in Europe would regard that as part of their core activity. But we are now seeing in recent years this going a stage further with pharmacists carrying out immunisation themselves within the pharmacy, as a complementary service to existing vaccination services.
More than two-thirds of Europeans can access a pharmacy within five minutes, following which they can consult a community pharmacist without any appointment.
For instance for flu vaccination, this offers a tremendous opportunity to reach parts of the public that have not received a flu vaccination before.
Numbers from Ireland have shown that since pharmacists first started vaccinating in 2011, flu vaccine deliveries through the National Immunisation Office (NIO) have increased overall by 48% and, within that, deliveries to general practitioners are up by almost 23%, demonstrating that when pharmacists
vaccinate, public awareness increases and vaccination rates increase. In addition, statistics 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.
Outside Ireland, many other established examples can be found across Europe where pharmacists are having a hands-on role in administering vaccines, such as in Denmark, Portugal, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. In addition to administering flu vaccinations, community pharmacists administer other vaccinations (for example, pneumo- coccal, shingles, human papilloma virus (HPV), travel vaccinations) in five European countries.
France has been the most recent country in Europe (March 2019) that has allowed pharmacists to administer flu vaccinations in the pharmacy following a very successful pilot project.
All community pharmacists in the French territory are now eligible to administer flu vaccines in the pharmacy, subject to the conditions that they have followed the required training programme and that the pharmacy has the appropriate premises and equipment to ensure a private and qualitative service provision.
Similar requirements for training and appropriate premises/equipment are in place in all other European countries where pharmacists are allowed to administer vaccines. In Portugal for example:
Pharmacies must as well have an adequate room for providing the vaccination with all necessary equipment, and be able to manage any anaphylactic event (for example, use of adrenaline to be administered by the pharmacist).
In many of the other European countries, there exist also additional opportunities to closer engage community pharmacists in the fight against lowering vaccination rates and increasing vaccination hesitancy.
With their rigorous scientific educational background and an established position as a pillar of the local community, (often with life-long relationships with their patients and communities), community pharmacists are an excellent resource for providing evidence-based, unbiased and balanced information on the benefits and risks of vaccination.
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 setting so that wherever people access the healthcare system, they receive qualitative information on immunization and that they can be identified as a potential risk/ target group for vaccination. Shared electronic vaccination/health records could improve the efficiency of such communication in the future.
To summarise, European community pharmacists can improve access and convenience to vaccination information and delivery to citizens as a complementary service to established vaccination services.
To increase vaccine coverage and help tackling vaccine hesitancy it is crucial to make better use of pharmacist-delivered vaccination services as an integral part of national vaccination pro- grammes.
Pharmacists across Europe are ready to work closely work together with their fellow healthcare professional colleagues and the authorities to ensure that the implementation of vaccination policies in practice can reach their full potential and can ensure a maximum increase in both coverage rates and public trust in vaccination across Europe.