GPs and pharmacies will have to administer around 2.6m doses of flu vaccine to over-65s over the course of two weeks in a bid to meet NHS England’s ambitious target for coverage.
Out of 8.5m doses delivered, approximately 5.9m had been administered by last weekend, the latest figures released this afternoon show. This leaves the average practice with 293 vaccines to administer over the last two weeks of November.
It follows problems with stocks, which saw delivery rolled out in phases and practices and pharmacies having to swap stocks to meet demand.
NHS England launched a campaign this week urging over-65s to seek out their GP or pharmacist ‘as soon as possible’, saying this comes as ‘all vaccines have now been delivered to those surgeries and pharmacists who placed an order on time’.
Practices were asked to administer the new adjuvanted trivalent flu vaccine (aTIV) to over-65s this year, but the Government only rolled out the advice in January when most practices had already ordered stocks.
UK supplier Seqirus has been working hard to meet demand, but was forced deliver the new vaccine in a phased process, with 40% delivered in September, 20% in October and 40% in November.
A Pulse survey last week revealed that nearly 70% of GPs experienced a shortage of the aTIV vaccine.
But a vast increase in deliveries since then means 77% of GPs have now received more stock – according to a snapshot survey by Pulse – although a quarter of the 235 GPs that responded, had still not received their full order of the aTIV vaccine by the national UK deadline of 17 November.
A statement from NHS England said: ‘All vaccines have now been delivered to those surgeries and pharmacists who placed an order on time and the NHS is reassuring the public that there is sufficient supply of the vaccine in stock for everyone to get protected ahead of winter.’
‘As the NHS continues to work with GPs to ensure the vaccine gets to where it is needed, Seqirus confirmed it has now despatched the final supplies for England,’ it added.
Chief nursing officer for England Professor Jane Cummings said: ‘We are urging those who have not yet had their flu jab to get it as soon as possible.
‘Around 8.5m doses of vaccine have been ordered, with around one million surplus doses available. The current uptake rate in those aged 65 or over is 57.7% so we are keen to see an increase in that figure.’
‘It’s certainly not too late for people to get vaccinated,’ she added.
Chief medical officer Professor Dame Sally Davies said: ‘More vaccines than ever before are now available and I strongly encourage everyone in a vulnerable group to contact their GP or pharmacy and get the jab.’
At the end of November last year, some 69% of over-65s had received their flu jab, equating to just under 7.1m vaccines, according to Public Health England data.
Kent LMC chair Dr Gaurav Gupta, who also sits on the BMA’s GP committee, said: ‘Yet again GPs and practice teams are being expected to sort out the problems in other parts of the system.
‘The flu vaccination programme this year has suffered delays due to late advise regarding the schedule and problems with supplies. I am sure GPs and their staff will do their best to make the best of this difficult situation and do the best for their patients.’
Dr Richard Vautrey, BMA GP committee chair, said: ‘Now the final batch of vaccinations for over-65s have been made available, those patients who are yet to get vaccinated should contact their GP and arrange to do so as early as possible.
‘GPs will be working hard to vaccinate people in the coming days and weeks to ensure they are protected this winter, despite the delay in supplies.
‘There is continued benefit in being vaccinated throughout the flu season and patients should continue to attend for vaccination, arranging an appointment for the earliest convenient opportunity.’
The BMA has previously called this year’s flu vaccine situation a ‘nightmare for GPs’, and asked NHS England to ensure the issues do not reoccur during the next flu season.
The average for each practice calculated in this article is based on the number of practices and pharmacies that took part in last year’s flu vaccination programme, and the coverage they provided.