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GPs delay flu clinics after problems with seasonal flu vaccine supplies

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Exclusive GPs should check the availability of seasonal flu vaccines they have ordered, after reports of ‘minor delays’ in deliveries from some suppliers, warn public health chiefs.

Public Health England said that it was was aware of delays in deliveries from ‘a number of flu vaccine manufacturers’ and said practices should contact suppliers for up-to-date information to avoid problems.

Pulse understands there are ongoing delays at two suppliers of seasonal influenza vaccines that have caused disruption to clinics this week, while a further two said earlier problems have now been resolved.  

Abbott Healthcare says it is having manufacturing problems that are leading to ‘slight’ delays with supplies of its seasonal flu vaccine Imuvac. The distribution company MASTA also confirmed it has had problems obtaining Imuvac, meaning deliveries between 23 October and 1 November have been put back and will arrive from 4 November.

Of other seasonal flu vaccine suppliers, both Glaxo Smith-Kline (GSK) and Novartis told Pulse they have experienced temporary problems with supply, but that these are now resolved.

A spokesperson from PHE said: ‘PHE is aware that a number of flu vaccine manufacturers’ deliveries are subject to relatively minor delays. Flu vaccine availability and distribution during the flu season is fluid and can change rapidly. Flu vaccine manufacturers should be contacted directly for current, up-to-date distribution activity.’

PHE reminded practices in June that ordering from more than one supplier ‘is recommended’, in light of disruptions experienced last year by some practices, after problems with one manufacturer caused localised vaccine shortages.

But Dr Dean Marshall, GPC lead on vaccinations, told Pulse: ‘It’s often a problem when you are having to order so far in advance – each year we tend to have problems with one of the suppliers. It’s all well and good saying have multiple suppliers, the problem is that affects the cost for GPs.

‘GPs do an excellent job delivering the campaign and do it better than anyone else could – and the Government knows this, but things go wrong and manufacturers let you down.’

He added: ‘Because we start so early, there is time to get all the patients done, but the problem is it impacts further on the practices’ workload. PHE’s response doesn’t really give us any solution to the problem. Why doesn’t PHE check stocks availability centrally and give us a bit of help – instead of practices having to phone round? It would be helpful if they could get do this and send out updates to practices.’

Dr John Elder, a GP in Grantham, Lincolshire, said that he had to cancel a flu clinic his week, after an order twice failed to turn up as scheduled, while further clinics are now in doubt after GPs were informed they will not receive any more vaccine until 4 November at the earliest.

Dr Elder told Pulse on Monday: ‘[The order] was promised initially on Tuesday but none appeared – on re-contacting [the supplier] was very apologetic and promised Friday – again nil appeared and no contact from them.’  

He added that the delay ‘had a big effect’ as more than 40 patients were due to have jabs on the Saturday.

A spokesperson from MASTA said: ‘The deliveries that were affected were those between 23rd October [and] 4th November and the delays did not affect all customers. MASTA has already successfully delivered to a large volume of customers in September and early October and will be continuing to deliver to customers throughout November.

‘MASTA will be delivering to all outstanding customers as soon as possible and have contacted customers with revised delivery dates. MASTA does not envisage any reason to issue refunds as all orders will be fulfilled.’

A spokesperson from Abbott Healthcare said:  ‘Due to the more complex manufacturing process for the two new influenza strains included in this year’s vaccine by the [World Health Organisation], Abbott is experiencing a slight delay in supply of its influenza vaccines. 

‘We are in the process of completing delivery of our orders.  Abbott takes it commitment to patients and customers very seriously and we endeavour to inform customers and take immediate action in situations where our ability to provide our products on time is compromised.’

A spokesperson from GSK said: ‘Between the end of September and the middle of October, GSK experienced a temporary delay in the supply of one of GSK’s seasonal flu vaccines, Fluarix.

‘Throughout this time, GSK prioritised deliveries of Fluarix to patients in an “at risk group, or over 65” in line with Public Health England recommendations.  All healthcare providers affected by the delay were offered an alternative flu vaccine also manufactured by GSK.  This matter has now been resolved and GSK has sufficient stock for the rest of the flu season.’

A Novartis spokesperson said:  ‘We had a short initial delay for our egg-based vaccine but all deliveries are now in process.’

Other manufacturers of seasonal flu vaccines Pfizer, Sanofi Pasteur MSD and Janssen-Cilag told Pulse they currently have no shortage of vaccines or delays in supply.



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