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GPs may have to ration flu vaccine in new shambles

GPs may have to reserve flu

vaccines for their most vul-

nerable elderly patients this winter after the flu campaign was once again thrown into chaos.

There will be substantial delays in vaccine delivery and the possibility of shortages through- out the winter months because of failures in vaccine manufacture, the Department of Health has revealed.

The full extent of delays and shortages will not become clear until the end of the month, but immunisation experts have advised GPs to brace themselves for weekend clinics and tough decisions about who should be vaccinated first.

GPs could also suffer financially if vaccine supplies are insufficient to cover patients eligible under QOF indicators for CHD, stroke, diabetes and COPD.

Dr David Salisbury, the department's director of immunisation, admitted not all the 15.2 million vaccines ordered might be delivered. 'The delay could lead to less vaccine being available than we would like.'

Dr George Kassianos, RCGP immunisation spokesman, said GPs would have to be prepared to search practice records for patients most in need of vaccination. 'If there is not enough vaccine to cover those in the priority groups we cannot just blanket certain risk groups. GPs can ration vaccines further by searching on computers to flag up individual cases most at risk.'

Dr Douglas Fleming, member of the influenza subgroup of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, warned: 'It is very important to get the programme completed by November.

'If GPs are waiting over four weeks the situation will be difficult and very concerning. GPs will need to increase the intensity by opening [weekend] clinics for the sole purpose of administering vaccine.'

The department said there had been problems across Europe after manufacturers experienced problems growing the 161 strain of the Wisconsin virus recommended by the World Health Organisation for this year's campaign.

Dr Rob Barnett, secretary of Liverpool LMC and a member of the GPC, strongly criticised the Government's handling of the vaccine programme.

'For us to now be saying we need to further prioritise becomes somewhat ludicrous. We are trying to gear ourselves up to cope with a pandemic. If we don't have the ability to cope with our standard problems God help us.'

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