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Vaccine shortage forces NI GPs to cancel all under-65s flu clinics

by Sofia Lind
21 October 2020

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GPs in Northern Ireland are being forced to cancel flu clinics as the country has run out of stock for the under-65s vaccine.

Yesterday, Northern Ireland’s Public Health Agency announced a ‘pause’ to all flu vaccinations for people under 65 – including those who are eligible for free jabs.

It said this comes as a result of ‘worldwide shortages’ of vaccine, which means ordering is not expected to resume until ‘mid-November’.

The PHA and Health and Social Care Board (HSCB) have written to GP practices and Trusts ‘encouraging them to use existing stock and asking that they notify the PHA of unused vaccine to allow redistribution to other practices that may require it’, the announcement said.

PHA head of health protection Dr Gerry Waldron said ‘demand for the flu vaccine this year has been phenomenal’ in Northern Ireland, with GPs adapting ‘admirably’ to the pressures.

He said: ‘Primary care, pharmacy colleagues and Trusts have adapted admirably to the challenges of coronavirus to enable key groups to get vaccinated, and along with the rest of the UK we are now reaching full uptake of the allocated stock.’

Dr Waldron said it was ‘important to note’ that ‘more than half a million doses of flu vaccine have already been distributed in Northern Ireland’, which he said was ‘an unprecedented number at this stage of a seasonal flu vaccination programme’. 

He added: ‘This will result in a temporary pause in the supply of vaccine for eligible people under 65, and additional controls for the distribution of the other flu vaccines,  until we receive further stock. It is great to see people getting the vaccine in such high numbers, but it does create the unusual situation of pausing some aspects until further supplies become available.’

RCGPNI chair Dr Dr Laurence Dorman said GPs ‘left exasperated’ by the shortages after their ‘intense preparation and planning’ for the mass vaccination programme.

He said: ‘GPs have voiced concerns about supply problems before and during their flu clinic planning stages, based on supply having been an issue in previous years. We were given assurances there would be no supply issues and so organised the flu campaign with this in mind.

‘GP and their practice teams will now have to rearrange vaccination clinics, and with huge pressures facing GP services already, this is simply time we do not have to spare. 

‘While we are mindful of the unprecedented difficulties this pandemic has brought to bear, we urge for lessons to be learned, particularly for future mass vaccination programmes.’

It comes as GPs in England have been able to place orders for additional flu vaccines from the Government’s central stock since last week. However, practices were advised they cannot use the Government’s central flu stock to ‘plug temporary shortfalls’ and must ‘exhaust’ other supply routes first.

A version of this story first appeared on our sister title Pulse.