A Deep Dive into the House of Lords Discussion on NIP

24 January 2024

Last week, a debate was held in the House of Lords on the National Immunisation Programme (NIP). Baroness Ritchie of Downpatrick, who introduced this debate, argued that the Government needs to accelerate the time it takes for new vaccines to be added to the NIP so that innovative vaccines can reach patients more rapidly.

She highlighted how we need to build upon the lessons learned from COVID-19, arguing that the Government should foster a collaborative environment with industry to drive vaccine development. Baroness Richie of Downpatrick pushed the Government to introduce several measures, such as improving the vaccine regulator’s horizon scanning, to ensure that the UK has the right infrastructure in place for timely vaccine approval.

Additionally, peers called on the Government to improve the delivery of existing vaccines, arguing that community pharmacies should play a larger role in vaccination programmes. We know the vaccination infrastructure in England is inadequate, leading to a great variation in vaccination uptake and coverage between different communities. Community pharmacies should be utilised in seasonal vaccinations, as they are easily accessible to hard-to-reach individuals and pharmacists’ relationships with communities can be harnessed to help reduce vaccine hesitancy within vulnerable populations.

Barron Merron asserted that community pharmacies should deliver an expanded range of vaccines, including for shingles, RSV, and pneumonia. Lord Markham, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Health and Social Care, responded that  Pharmacy First, which allows pharmacists to prescribe medicines for common illnesses, promotes community pharmacies as a place for patients to get care. However, he failed to confirm whether the Government has plans to increase the range of vaccinations available from pharmacies.

During this debate, peers also argued for the rollout of an RSV vaccine for older people and children. The Taskforce for Lung Health has been calling on the Government to implement an RSV vaccination programme, since the Joint Committee on Vaccinations and Immunisation recommended in June 2023 that an RSV vaccine should be introduced for older adults and babies. It is estimated that an RSV vaccination programme for infants could result in a reduction of 108,000 GP consultations, 74,000 A+E visits and 20,000 hospitalisations. While an older adult’s vaccine programme could lead to a reduction of 36,000 GP consultations, 4,600 hospitalisations and 2800 deaths.

We are pleased that the Government has confirmed the procurement process for RSV vaccines is underway. Lord Markham detailed how the department is “gearing up on the RSV process,” announcing that the Government is looking to deliver an RSV vaccination programme this Autumn. Lord Markham added: “It is a different process depending on whether it is for maternal or baby use, or for the over-75s, but we are going through that process.”

While the Taskforce welcomes this announcement, it will be critical that the Government ensures these groups can access RSV vaccination prior to the RSV season, which typically begins in October. The Government must commit to a prompt rollout of RSV vaccinations, as they must be delivered before the beginning of the season to ensure maximum efficacy for children and older adults.

By Beth Alderson (Policy Officer)