GPs are facing a national rabies vaccine shortage, which is forcing them to use an unlicensed product.
Pulse has discovered that the Novartis vaccine Rabipur is out of stock in the UK. This means GPs immunising patients against rabies are having to use the licensed Sanofi Pasteur MSD vaccine BP, leading to a shortage of supplies.
As a result, an agreement between the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency and Department of Health has allowed Sanofi Pasteur MSD to import the unlicensed Verorabvaccine.
A spokesperson for MHRA said: ‘In September and October 2012 import of unlicensed Verorab was permitted by variation of the Sanofi Pasteur MSD Wholesale Dealers Licence.
‘Exceptionally, the MHRA may vary such licences to meet public health needs by agreement/request of the Department of Health.
‘Unlicensed medicines should only be supplied for the special needs of individual patients where no suitable licensed product is available in the UK. Once licensed product becomes available, supply of unlicensed product should cease.’
However, the Medical Protection Society confirmed that GPs using the unlicensed vaccine were legally protected.
Dr Pallavi Bradshaw, medicolegal adviser at MPS, said: ‘Doctors can be confident in prescribing and administering the unlicensed vaccine, as it has been approved by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency and the Department of Health.’
Dr George Kassianos, a GP in Bracknell, Berkshire and RCGP spokesperson on immunisation, told Pulse that the shortage was having a knock-on effect in his surgery.
He said: ‘The shortage of Rabies vaccine is causing problems in our general practice travel clinics as not only we are not able to make it available to travellers but often we are not able to complete primary courses of travellers we have already started. The Novartis vaccine Rabipur is entirely out of stock.
‘This has caused problems with the Sanofi Pasteur MSD Rabies Vaccine BP because of the national demand on this vaccine.’
A spokesperson for the Department of Health said it was not responsible for travel vaccines and that it was up to individual health trusts to procure them for GPs.
A spokesperson for Novartis confirmed to Pulse that the company was currently out of stock but was unable to give a reason why.
She said: ‘We are out of stock but we are expecting to bring more in, in the New Year.’
‘We are trying to bring that forward at the moment but we have spoken to GPs and the Department of Health on this matter. We have some stock held back for use in cases of post exposure.’