Covid-19 continues to make headlines but with winter around the corner, you can’t afford to ignore the all-important flu vaccination service. This year it will significantly different due to the high probability of flu and Covid-19 co-circulating putting more people at risk of becoming seriously ill. In this article, we look at the comparisons between flu and Covid-19 whilst highlighting the changes made to the flu vaccination service.
Is The Flu Really A Serious Illness?
For most healthy people, the flu (influenza) is an unpleasant experience but can become more severe for older people, pregnant women and those with underlying conditions. Whilst most people will recover within a few weeks, some could develop serious complications. These include sinus and ear infections, pneumonia, and heart or brain inflammation.
According to the World Health Organisation, as many as 650,000 people a year can die from flu which is why flu vaccinations are so important. This is especially the case to help protect young children, the elderly, pregnant women or people with compromised immune systems. So how does the flu compare to the coronavirus?
Which Is Worse, Influenza or The Coronavirus?
This may seem like a strange question but it’s on the minds of many people and for good reason. It’s not just about comparing symptoms or severity of each but also involves the social impact and how contagious they are.
The average seasonal flu strains kill approximately 0.1% of those who become infected whilst the 1918 Spanish flu showed an exceptionally high fatality rate of around 2% killing tens of millions of people.
In terms of the coronavirus, early reports from China estimated the death was also around 2% but later, The New England Journal of Medicine found it to be at a lower rate of 1.4%. According to a published editorial, the true death rate could be similar to that of a severe seasonal flu which is below 1%.
Which Is More Contagious?
As it stands, the coronavirus is more contagious than most flu strains and roughly the same as those that appear in pandemic flu seasons. On average, each person with the coronavirus infects 2.2 other people compared to the seasonal flu which is roughly 1.3.
However, this figure (R-number) may not be accurate considering the mismanagement of the epidemic early on. The R-number for the 1918 flu was perhaps a little higher than the coronavirus but that was before modern treatments and vaccines were at their disposal.
What makes both illnesses so potentially dangerous is that many people may be contagious before showing any symptoms. This makes it incredibly difficult and sometimes impossible to control the spread of the virus. The scary part is that nobody knows the true number of people infected with the coronavirus with very mild symptoms or none at all.
The New Flu Vaccination Service
The Government has expanded the NHS flu programme to include more groups and with this in mind, Pharmacies and GP practices within a PCN are being encouraged to work together. As a result, part of the Pharmacy Quality Scheme (PQS) part 2 now includes Domain 4 called Primary Care Network – Prevention.
This domain aims to reduce the risk of harm from the influenza virus for all patients aged 65 and older. It also aims at reducing pressure on the NHS during winter by incentivising community pharmacy and GPs through the PQS and the Impact and Investment Fund (IIF) respectively. During the seasonal flu vaccination service campaign period, pharmacy staff will identify those who are eligible and encourage them to be vaccinated.
Changes To The Flu Vaccination Service
They’ve made several changes to the pharmacist lead service this year including the need for written consent having been removed. The government updated the PPE guidance in August changing some of the guidance on the wider use of PPE when providing direct care to patients.
Previously, where direct care of potentially infected patients was provided, the general recommendation was for the use of Fluid resistant masks, disposable gloves, disposable aprons and eye protection. In the revised guidance, gloves and aprons are recommended when there is (anticipated) exposure to blood/body fluids or non-intact skin.
However, it states that in some clinical settings, such as vaccination clinics where patient contact is minimal, the need for single-use PPE items for each encounter is NOT necessary. Therefore, the new guidance stipulates that pharmacists administering vaccinations must apply hand hygiene practices between patients and wear a sessional Type IIR mask.
Who Is Eligible For The Flu Vaccination Service?
NHS England and NHS Improvement commissioned community pharmacies to provide a flu vaccination service since 2015 where it runs from 1 September to 31 March every year. This new unprecedented service applies to the following:
- eligible patients 18 years and older based on information in the annual Flu Plan
- people aged 50 to 64 may receive free vaccinations later in the year
- people who are on the shielded patient list and members of their household
- all school year groups up to year 7
- people aged over 65, pregnant women, and those with some pre-existing conditions
Community pharmacy and general practice teams have been delivering the flu vaccination service for several years but in some places, the approach has been more competitive. Thus, by incentivising primary care providers similarly, NHSE&I want to facilitate a collaborative approach in a PCN leading to an increase in uptake of flu vaccinations in the eligible population.
There are many myths surrounding vaccines but they’ve helped save millions of lives while eradicating many deadly diseases across the globe. As always, VirtualOutcomes is here to support you and your pharmacy team with providing the necessary support and online training modules covering various topics.
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