The vaccines minister has said that issues with flu jab deliveries will not cause a delay to the overall flu vaccination programme ‘at all’.
In a House of Commons debate on Monday evening, Nadhim Zahawi said that the delay in deliveries is restricted to Seqirus – which is the biggest supplier of flu vaccines – and will not hold up the programme ‘at all’.
Mr Zahawi also reiterated the plan to co-administer flu jabs and Covid boosters ‘wherever possible’, in line with the JCVI’s interim advice.
Earlier this week, it was revealed that GPs are having to cancel hundreds of flu jab appointments due to vaccine delivery delays of ‘up to two weeks’.
Seqirus said the delay was due to ‘unforeseen road freight challenges’ and told practices not to book any clinics until it has confirmed delivery seven days in advance.
But Mr Zahawi told MPs: ‘Traditionally, flu vaccination begins earlier—it begins now. One of the suppliers, Seqirus, has had a border issue with its Spanish fill-and-finish factory, which it has used for many, many years. This is the first time that it has had this issue.
‘It is being very careful and estimating a one or two-week delay. This will not delay the overall flu vaccination programme at all.’
He added that Seqirus is ‘meeting the Spanish regulator to see what the issue is’ and that its German and Belgian supply chain ‘has been flowing normally’.
Mr Zahawi urged MPs not to ‘talk about flu vaccine shortages’ as a ‘knee-jerk reaction’.
The minister was responding to a question by shadow health secretary Jon Ashworth, who asked what he would do ‘to get a grip’ of the flu delays and ‘avoid a flu crisis this winter’.
Mr Ashworth said: ‘Primary and secondary school children are due to receive a flu vaccine, yet not only is the NHS apparently running out of blood test tubes, with certain vital tests delayed, but we are now told that flu vaccination will be delayed because deliveries are delayed by two weeks and GPs are cancelling flu vaccination appointments.
‘This is before we head into what could be one of the most difficult winters in living memory. What will the minister do to get a grip of this situation and avoid a flu crisis this winter?’
Mr Ashworth also asked whether any delay to flu vaccines would ‘knock on to any booster jab campaign’, amid plans to co-deliver flu and jabs and Covid boosters from this month.
Mr Zahawi said the plan was still to co-administer the flu and Covid vaccines, adding: ‘The only caveat I would place on that is that the JCVI has given us only its interim advice on Covid. We are not yet there with the COV-Boost [study] data, which it will look at. It will give us its final advice on Covid.
‘If it chooses a vaccine that requires, for example, a 15-minute observation period, we have a very different challenge in co-administration, but nevertheless, wherever possible, we will co-administer. We have made it possible for vaccinated volunteers to administer flu and Covid vaccines.’
Mr Zahawi also confirmed that the Government is procuring flu vaccines centrally alongside the ‘traditional procurement through GPs and pharmacies’.
Meanwhile, the other three flu vaccine providers for the UK have confirmed there are currently no issues with deliveries of their vaccines this winter, reports Pulse’s sister publication The Pharmacist.
Manufacturer Sanofi said that ‘at present’ it does not ‘foresee any supply issues’.
‘We expect about 40% of total UK ordered volumes to be delivered by Friday 17th September,’ a spokesperson added.
Similarly, another manufacturer, Mylan, confirmed today that it has not experienced any delays and does not expect to be affected by any and that ‘deliveries are going ahead as planned’.
A spokesperson for AstraZeneca — which provides the vaccines for children under 18 — said that delays would ‘not be an issue.’
‘We supply vaccines directly to NHS England, orders have been opened and are being centrally managed by NHS England,’ they said.
It comes as the BMA has called for the Government to hold a Cobra meeting about flu vaccine delays and blood test tube shortages.
This year’s record-sized flu vaccination programme is due to target 35 million people across the UK, the Government announced in July.
However, it has been mired in confusion as PCNs are still awaiting guidance on Covid vaccine boosters, having initially been told to expect to co-administer these with flu jabs.