NHS denies flu vaccine shortage amid complaints over delays

This article was taken from: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2018/oct/21/nhs-denies-flu-vaccine-shortage-amid-complaints-over-delays

By Ben Quinn

The NHS and healthcare bodies have sought to offer assurances that there are adequate supplies of the flu vaccine amid mounting unease among older people who have been unable to get the jab at surgeries and pharmacies outside of London.

Deliveries of this year’s adjuvanted trivalent vaccine (aTIV) – a new, more effective vaccine that has been recommended for patients aged over 65 – have been staggered because there is only one supplier.

However, some people say they are being told that it won’t be available in their area for several weeks.

Anne Shankland, 73, from Winchester, said: “My GP isn’t offering it until early November and local pharmacies say they don’t know when they will get it.

“Even at that rate, it’s going to take two to three weeks to take effect. So after we’ve queued up to get into a clinic we will end up being dumped out into the middle or beginning of the flu season.”

Others have been contacting the Guardian with similar stories, with one man describing the vaccine supply as a “shambles”. Another said he had walked in the prescribed day at his GP’s surgery only to be told that they had run out of stocks an hour earlier.

An NHS England spokesperson said: “GPs and pharmacists were given more than two months to order the vaccine. There is more than enough to meet expected demand and what’s more, older people will be better protected this year than ever before as they will be offered the most effective jab available anywhere in the world, and we expect pharmacists and GPs to get everyone vaccinated before the end of the year when flu usually hits.”

The NHS insists that there is more than enough stock of the vaccine in circulation and expect pharmacists and surgeries who have used the doses received so far to discuss with their patients when they will be getting further doses.

Leyla Hannbeck, the director of pharmacy at the National Pharmacy Association, said that the system had not been as responsive this season as it was in previous years, which means some people have not yet got the protection they want against flu.

“This is disappointing for pharmacists, who pride themselves on providing an extremely convenient service,” she added. “But it is not too late to get vaccinated and we encourage anyone in an at-risk group to ask their local pharmacist or GP.”

The British Medical Association (BMA) said that patients and practices were “understandably frustrated by the problems caused by the necessary phased supply of influenza vaccination this year”.

But Dr Richard Vautrey, BMA GP committee chair, added that they should be reassured that there are adequate supplies of flu vaccine for those who need to be immunised this winter.

“While we understand the concerns that patients over the age of 65, who should receive the aTIV vaccine, may have it is better for patients to wait to be given the most effective vaccination,” he said.

Public health bodies need to do more to inform patients about this year’s phased approach to the vaccine delivery, according to Vautrey, who added that the NHS and aTIV manufacturer, Seqirus, had given assurances that all vaccines for patients waiting to receive them would be delivered by the end of November.

“Meanwhile, those patients under 65 eligible for flu jabs – who receive the different quadrivalent vaccine – are unaffected by any supply issues and should not put off getting immunised as soon as possible.”

Last year’s flu season was the worst for seven years and many elderly people ended up in hospital with complications from the disease, which is caused by a viral infection.

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