Exclusive The Government is set to destroy around 1.7m flu vaccine doses left over from last season, Pulse has learned.
The unused doses were part of the central stock procured by the Government last winter, after the 2020/21 flu cohorts were expanded.
The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) told Pulse that just under 1.7m doses of flu vaccine from last year’s central stock are currently in the process of being destroyed because they were not required.
A Government spokesperson stressed that these doses are a small proportion of the total stock and that it is standard practice to destroy surplus vaccines at the end of the season.
However, the DHSC said it did not hold information on the number of doses that are usually destroyed each year.
Surrey GP partner Dr Emma Watts told Pulse that flu vaccines supplied to her practice by the Government have had to be destroyed because they were delivered too late – although the practice had initially been ‘inundated’ with requests from patients aged 50-64.
She said: ‘It’s extremely disappointing to discover that this volume of stock is being destroyed. Back in early October 2020 we fought hard to access central stock for the new 50-64 year old cohort to whom Matt Hancock had promised a flu vaccine.
‘Many of our patients were upset we had run out of the stock we had pre ordered for the standard cohort and we were inundated with requests for the vaccine.’
She added: ‘Unfortunately, by the time we were able to access central stock, the appetite for it appeared to have dwindled with the excitement of Covid vaccines on the horizon.
‘We have been unable to use the central stock supplied, as have neighbouring practices, hence our excess stock will have to be destroyed.’
Now practices are ‘nervous about estimating the demand for this year’s flu campaign’, Dr Watts told Pulse.
Last week, GPs warned that the vaccine supply they have will not cover the expanded cohorts without a central stock and that there will ‘inevitably’ be shortages if no additional vaccines can be secured.
A DHSC spokesperson said: ‘We supported the biggest flu vaccination programme ever this winter, which saw a record 19 million people vaccinated, including more than 80% of over-65s.
‘The majority of flu vaccines are ordered and managed by GP practices. GP practices were able to request additional vaccine doses from our centrally procured stock for if their local supply had been exhausted.’
They added that further details on the 2021/22 flu programme will be released in due course.
The 2020/21 flu vaccination programme was expanded due to the Covid-19 pandemic, with the Government setting a target of vaccinating 30 million patients.
Shielded patients and their households, and the over 50s, were among the new cohorts – with GPs given access vaccine stock from a Government central supply for the 50-64s.
In February, Public Health England (PHE) revealed that no flu cases had been detected in the last seven weeks thanks to ‘changes in our behaviour’.
Meanwhile, GP leaders have warned some practices could lose income when the four flu indicators in QOF are retired and replaced with new incentives for PCNs from April.