Tuesday, 13 October 2020
Department of Health
510. To ask the Minister for Health the quantity of the winter 'flu vaccination purchased; his plans for additional quantities to be purchased; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30071/20]
Given the potential for the winter flu season in 2020/2021 to coincide with a resurgence of COVID, and the importance of minimising hospital attendance, the Government is expanding the provision of vaccination without charge to all of those in the at-risk groups, including healthcare workers, and to all children aged from 2 to 12 years inclusive. The programme is being offered through GPs.
1.35 million doses of the Quadrivalent Influenza Vaccine have been ordered this year, to be made available to all persons in an at-risk group aged from 6 months up. The HSE has also ordered 600,000 doses of the Live Attenuated Influenza Vaccine, which is delivered via nasal drops rather than by injection and will be made available to children aged from 2 to 12 years.
Orders for flu vaccines are placed early in the year for the following winter season, due to the necessary lead-times for manufacturing the vaccines, and at the moment the international market for vaccines is under pressure and is not able to supply significant additional quantities of the vaccine. However, the HSE is confident that the number of doses procured is sufficient to meet demand in the at-risk groups and this element of the vaccination programme has commenced. Some GPs have also commenced the vaccination programme for children.
Those not covered by the HSE programme can avail of vaccination on a private basis. I understand that stocks of vaccine for private administration are now being distributed. The Health Products Regulatory Authority has not been informed of shortages of vaccines.
The 2020/2021 influenza vaccination season will be the 10th year that pharmacists have provided this service to patients. Since the pharmacy vaccination service began, the pharmacy regulator, the Pharmaceutical Society of Ireland (the PSI) have carried out a number of evaluations and a user satisfaction survey which have identified that this service is well received by the public and is provided to a high standard.
It was therefore considered appropriate to build on the existing good practice and patient trust to further develop this service, in order to meet the evolving healthcare needs of the public and support the national healthcare system, particularly during this time of a pandemic.
Due to the impact of COVID-19, there is a public health need to increase access to the influenza vaccine. I, as Minister for Health, have signed into law Statutory Instrument No. 401 of 2020 - Medicinal Products (Prescription and Control of Supply) (Amendment) (No. 5) Regulations 2020. These Regulations amend the Medicinal Products (Prescription and Control of Supply) Regulations 2003 to allow for influenza vaccination to be administered by registered pharmacists in places other than the premises of the retail pharmacy business in which they carry on their professional practice.
This has the potential to greatly increase uptake of the influenza vaccine in all the groups, who can avail of the vaccine free of charge in particular those in the at-risk categories, as well as patients wishing to access this service privately. It also enables pharmacists who may be unable to provide a vaccination service on their pharmacy premises during the 2020/21 flu season, (due to requirements for social distancing/staff restraints etc.) to continue to provide this service for their patients and local community, albeit at a different, but safe location.
Given the importance of maximising the level of uptake in the flu vaccination, my Department, in conjunction with the HSE and following discussion with the IMO and IPU, has agreed to a process to enable and incentivise GPs and pharmacists not only to deliver vaccination to the expanded groups, but to actively seek out relevant patients and deliver vaccinations in a programmatic way, such as through dedicated flu vaccination clinics. This approach is considered necessary and appropriate so as to replace the more opportunistic vaccination approach of previous years with a much more proactive one. The ability to allow for vaccination to be administered by pharmacists in places other than the premises of the retail pharmacy business in which they carry on their professional practice is considered to be an enabler of this approach.
However, it is not the role of the Minister for Health to set up off-site influenza vaccination clinics led by pharmacists or any other healthcare professional, rather this is demand led and arranged locally as the need arises, in lines with applicable regulatory requirements and clinical and practice guidelines.