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The Government has rejected a plea from GP negotiators to give GPs legal cover for immunising patients with unlicensed MMR vaccine imports.

The snub came as GPs were told to brace themselves for an influx of around 370,000 students who have been told by universities to visit their practice to check whether they are up to date with all their vaccinations before the September term starts.

The refusal to grant GPs an indemnity has sparked renew-ed concern over vaccine supply as some 300,000 doses of unlicensed MMR vaccine remain to be used and it is estimated that roughly 120,000 new

students will need immunising this summer.

A statement obtained from the Department of Health by Pulse this week said it would not indemnify GPs and that they could only administer unlicensed vaccine to their patients 'on their own direct responsibility'.

The department added it was trying to source as many vaccines from the UK as possible in anticipation of the summer surge but said it would not buy any more unlicensed MMR vaccine from Germany or the US.

They advised GPs to prioritise babies and preschool children over teenagers.

GPs reacted angrily at the refusal to offer an indemnity.

GPC negotiator Dr Laurence Buckman told GPs not to use the unlicensed MMR vaccine. 'GPs should not be dispensing medication that is not licensed. The only way they could do so is if the department could indemnify GPs against any adverse consequences.'

Dr John Canning, secretary of Cleveland LMC, said GPs should weigh up the risks and benefits of giving the unlicensed vaccine to teenagers.

But other LMCs and the Medical Defence Union said they had received calls from GPs who had concerns about giving the imported vaccine.

David Noblett, lay secretary for Lancashire LMC, said: 'There has been a feeling that GPs should not be giving this and we want reassurances from the department.'

LMCs also reported that some GPs were still not getting paid for immunising patients aged over 16. They advised GPs to refer patients to the local hospital rather than do the work for nothing.

Dr Nigel Watson, chief executive of Wessex LMCs, said: 'Some of the PCTs are trying to say that giving the vaccine is part of their normal work. We're telling GPs to do it and send a bill to the PCT.'

Dr Harry Yoxall, secretary of Somerset LMC said: 'We are still in negotiation with two of our PCTs over whether they want to commission us to do the vaccination. We have been told to send patients to the minor injury unit.'

By Emma Wilkinson

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