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Not enough stock for PM’s bid to vaccinate ‘everybody’ against flu, admits DHSC

UK stocks of flu vaccine will not be sufficient to vaccinate the entire population against flu, the Department of Health and Social Care has admitted, despite the Prime Minister saying he wants ‘everybody’ to get vaccinated.

Last Friday, the Government announced the expanded cohort for this year’s flu programme which will include all those over 50, shielded patients and their households and all school year groups up to Year Seven.

Speaking after the announcement, Boris Johnson said: ‘We want everybody to get a flu jab in the run-up to this winter and that’s why we’re rolling out the biggest-ever programme of flu immunisation.’

He added: ‘We’re aiming first of all for school children up to Year Seven, for pregnant women, for people over 65, for people who are shielded, but then we will be extending it to people who are 50 to 65.

‘The reason for doing this is to protect the NHS in the winter months because obviously we have still got Covid, we have still got the threat of a second spike of Covid, and it’s vital therefore to keep that pressure off the NHS by everybody getting a flu jab and I really hope everybody will.’

When asked whether there will be availability for ‘everybody’ to be vaccinated, including for those who are not eligible for the free jab, the DHSC told Pulse that there will be enough stock to vaccinate over 30m people.

They added that there will be enough additional stock in the orders from community pharmacies to cover the usual level of demand from private patients who pay to receive the jab outside of the programme.

However, the DHSC previously told Pulse it is expecting an increased take-up of the vaccine among those eligible for the free jab.

And GPs have warned that practices may not have enough supplies to meet the additional demand from patients coming forward as a result of Covid-19 pandemic creating more awareness.

When asked whether the increased stock being used for the Government programme will prevent the ‘hundreds of thousands’ of people in the UK who usually buy a flu jab from doing so, health minister Helen Whately told Sky News that those ‘who are most at risk’ will be vaccinated.

She said: ‘The Government has made sure that we will be able to vaccinate the 30m people who are most at risk in the event of getting flu – those are the people it is absolutely essential should have access to the vaccine.

‘That is what the scientific guidance is [and] that is the thing that will make the real difference for us being ready and able to be prepared as best we possibly can for the winter. Those who most need a vaccine will be covered by this programme.’

A spokesperson previously told Pulse that the DHSC believes it has sufficient vaccines to meet demand for the free programme and that it is anticipating 30m people will be vaccinated this year thanks to increased take-up and the expanded cohort – compared with around 15m in 2019/20.

However, GPs have already expressed fears over ‘unprecedented’ flu vaccine shortages.

And Pulse revealed last week that one of the UK’s key suppliers of flu vaccines will not be able to get almost a third of ordered stock to GP practices until November. 

Meanwhile, the DHSC has said that GPs should use the flu stock they have already ordered to deliver this year’s expanded flu programme in the first instance.

There are no details as yet about payment mechanisms for GPs administering the vaccines, supply issues or around what stage of the year it will be delivered to patients aged between 50 and 64.

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