Flu vaccine supply problems have led to lower uptake rates in Scotland than at the same time last year, figures suggest.
It emerged during a parliamentary debate that only 39% of the over-65s have been vaccinated against flu compared with 45% at the same point last year.
By comparison, in England – where GPs have also had to wait for staggered deliveries of the new adjuvanted trivalent inactivated influenza vaccine (aTIV) – just over half of the older at risk population have been vaccinated.
GPs in Scotland – where flu vaccine is procured centrally – are having to restrict the use of the newly introduced flu vaccine to the over-75s after the Government failed to secure enough stock of the vaccine.
It counters advice from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation that the aTIV vaccine be used in the over-65s as it has been shown to be more effective in older people.
Speaking a parliamentary debate on the flu vaccine programme on the 22 November, Jackson Carlaw MSP raised concerns that despite reassurances there was enough vaccine, many people were still waiting.
‘I was contacted by one individual this week, who informed me that their elderly mother, aged 85, still has not had her jab and, indeed, still has no date for it.
‘We are also being informed by general practice clinics that many patients are having to wait, potentially until next month, when the flu season takes hold.’
In response, first Minister Nicola Sturgeon said every year there were local mismatches between supply and demand and this year there had been an early high demand in some practices but Health Protection Scotland was working to ensure local supplies.
She added that it was the uptake at the end of the flu season that matters.
‘We all encourage people to go and get vaccinated. It is not the case that there are large numbers of patients waiting for the vaccine.
‘If there are local supply issues, I have set out the arrangements that are in place to resolve them,’ she told Parliament.
But Dr Andrew Buist, chair of BMA Scotland’s GP Committee said the ‘slower pace’ of flu vaccinations this year was a concern as winter approaches.
‘The increased complexity of which patient is eligible for what vaccine and gaps in practice supply that have to be managed are likely to have had an impact on a number of practices.
He added: ‘This is frustrating for GPs and for the public and it is important that lessons are learnt to prevent this situation occurring again in future years.’