Exclusive: GPs have criticised the Department of Health for lacking any emergency supplies of flu vaccine, as practices cope with shortages following a major manufacturer withdrawing batches of vaccine.
The Department of Health has told Pulse that it does not have any flu vaccine reserves, and will only develop them towards the end of the flu season. But GPs say this will be too late for some practices if there is a sudden rise in demand.
The manufacturer Crucell has had to recall its Viroflu and Inflexal vaccines following unexpected test results on some of its batches, leading to major shortages as the flu vaccination programme begins.
The DH traditionally holds a reserve of 400,000 vaccines in case supplies run out; however, Pulse understands that it has not yet built up this reserve this year.
This is despite the DH conducting a review of flu vaccine procurement last year, and concluding that a central stockpile of vaccine in reserve was needed in case supplies ever ran short.
A DH spokesperson told Pulse: ‘As in previous years, once delivery of vaccine to general practice is underway the department builds a strategic reserve of around 400,000 doses of flu vaccine.
‘This reserve is to use near the end of the seasonal flu vaccination programme if all other supplies have been exhausted.’
But Dr George Kassianos, RCGP immunisation lead and a GP in Bracknell, Berkshire, said: ‘The right time for having the central emergency reserves is right at the start of the season.
‘This will help practices that have difficulties in obtaining their ordered supplies, such as the case of Crucell now, but also to ensure enough flu vaccine is around to cope with sudden rise in demand that may be dictated by the unpredictable behaviour of the influenza viruses.’
Dr John Allingham, medical secretary of Kent LMC, said: ‘The DH should have had reserves.’
‘The targets have changed this year and they have added in pregnant women and they’ve increased the targets for the over-65s. The NHS staff have been criticised for a low uptake, so all of that is putting pressure on the system. They need more vaccine. The DH should have a contingency plan for something going wrong.’
Pulse reported earlier this week that GP practices across the country had been affected by the Crucell recall, with Derbyshire LMC secretary Dr John Grenville reporting that in his area 15 practices were short of supplies and several flu vaccination clinics had been cancelled as a result.
Dr Grenville told Pulse the incident had ‘taken everyone by surprise’ and ‘there seems to be no plan B nationally’.
However, GPC negotiator Dr Peter Holden said: ‘We need to get this in perspective. One firm had a batch they were not happy with.’
‘Very responsibly, they stopped all deliveries until they’d checked everything. This is not a life or death matter for the individual. I am sure it will be sorted out.’