Great Britain

Flu vaccine ‘running out across UK’ as coronavirus demand risks elderly missing jab ahead of winter peak

THE flu vaccine is reportedly “running out across the UK” sparking fears the elderly could miss out on their jab.

A surge in demand this year has been triggered by the coronavirus outbreak and high street pharmacies Boots and Lloyds have suspended bookings for those aged 65 and over while waiting lists at some GP surgeries stretch for several weeks.

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The shortage has left some of the most vulnerable people facing the prospect they may not get the jab ahead of the winter peak in cases.

The Government had previously promised that they would be at the front of the queue.

A Public Health England (PHE) study had shown the chance of death for coronavirus patient roughly doubles if they catch flu at the same time.

Currently, PHE hopes to immunise 30million people this winter in the largest flu vaccine programme ever in the UK.

This year, the programme has been open to everyone over the age of 50.

The Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) said on Monday night it was "essential" that those most vulnerable to flu got vaccinated by the end of November.

Greg Clark, the chairman of the Commons science committee, told The Telegraph: "Suppressing the flu helps fight Covid by reducing the number of people with Covid-like symptoms who would need to isolate and be tested, and by reducing the severity of the impact on those who do get Covid.

"It is essential that as many people as possible are able to get a flu jab this autumn."

Professor Jonathan Van Tam, the deputy chief medical officer for England, said last Monday at the launch of the programme "the emphasis has always got to be on the high-risk groups.

"This winter, with Covid still circulating, and the increased risk to life if you are ill with both viruses simultaneously... it is even more vital to get the free jab as soon as you can."

However, with the increased demand pharmacies and GP surgeries are running out of their first batch of jabs before they get restocked.

Each GP surgery is responsible for ordering its own stock of flu jabs from the manufacturers in the February of the previous winter.

The Department of Health and Social Care though controls a central emergency stockpile ordered directly from the pharmaceutical companies.

The paper reports that while none of the central supply has been made available yet, officials are drawing up instructions to practices on how they can apply for the standby jabs.

Graham Slesser, a 65-year-old accountant from Doncaster, tried to book a flu jab at his GP on Monday, having been turned away by his high street pharmacy.

"I was told there were 200 people ahead of me in the queue and that I might not get an appointment until the end of October," he told the paper. "I have an existing issue with my heart rate and I am extremely worried about catching flu and coronavirus.

"The powers that be knew this was coming – they encouraged everyone to go off and get vaccinated. Now there's a shortage."

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Other patients have complained that their appointments with pharmacists have been cancelled at the last minute.

Dr. George Kassianos, the national immunisation spokesman for the RCGP, said: "From the middle of December, we usually see the influenza case rate rising. It then peaks in January or February before coming down. It is essential that at-risk groups are vaccinated in September, October or November. We take it for granted that everyone is going to get a vaccine, but actually not everyone can have one all at once."  

NHS England chief executive Sir Simon Stevens said it would be "age apartheid" to ask the over-65s to shield in order to minimise the impact of a second virus wave.

Lloyds Pharmacies said they hoped to reopen bookings “over the coming days”.

Boots said they weren’t able to say when their bookings would reopen.

A Government spokesman said: "Delivery of flu vaccinations is phased over the autumn and into winter, and priority is rightly given to those who are most at risk, with others being asked to wait to later in the year.

“We have sufficient vaccine for up to 30 million people to be vaccinated in England.

“Flu vaccination deliveries for those who are in at-risk groups has started, and will continue in all areas in England throughout the winter months."

A spokesman for Boots said the company had purchased 20 per cent more doses this year compared to last year, adding: "We know that this year our customers have been more conscious than ever about protecting the health of themselves and their families, and protecting against flu has been front of mind for many of us.

"As a result, we have seen more people than ever booking early to get their flu vaccinations and, due to the level of demand and limited stock that we have available, we made the decision to pause taking any new bookings for our private and NHS under-65s flu vaccination services last week.

"Since then, we have been closely monitoring our stock levels of the vaccination recommended by the NHS for patients aged 65 and over, and can confirm that we have also now closed for new bookings for these vaccinations. This is to make sure we can vaccinate the patients who have already booked their appointment with us."

A spokesman for LloydsPharmacy said: "In the first week of flu season, we have already vaccinated 10 times more people compared to last year. We are reassuring customers that there are enough vaccines available for those who have booked appointments.

"We are currently making improvements to our online booking to cope with the increased demand, and we are asking any new customers to provide us with their contact details if they wish to have a flu vaccination so that we can contact them with an exclusive window to book their appointment online.

"We would like to assure our patients who have registered their information with us that appointments are available and will become available over the coming days."

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