By Lilian Anekwe
Some GPs face not receiving flu-vaccine supplies until the beginning of November after it emerged this year's campaign had been hit by significant delays.
Pulse has learned key vaccine supplier Sanofi-Pasteur MSD has reported delays to its second wave of deliveries because of ‘packaging problems'.
The Department of Health estimates delays of three weeks, but Professor David Salisbury, its director of immunisation, warned practices might not get supplies until the end of October or start of November.
A letter from Professor Salisbury said: ‘We are aware of delays in deliveries of some vaccines due to packaging problems. Outstanding deliveries should be fulfilled by the end of October or shortly thereafter.'
The DH said the delays affected about 10% of Sanofi-Pasteur MSD stocks, but could hit as many as a fifth of practices. They will add to the pressure on GPs as practices cope with a significant expansion of this year's programme. UK research last month found vaccination before mid-November played a key role in reducing fatal flu complications.
Professor Salisbury's letter, to SHA and PCT immunisation co-ordinators, said practices should delay flu clinics until supplies became available: ‘The DH recommends affected GP surgeries should try to reschedule clinics in line with updated delivery schedules or contact other flu manufacturers to see if they can provide stocks for October clinics.'
He warned GPs not to pay out for expensive alternatives that would ‘significantly increase' DH costs.
Delivery delays have led to plunges in uptake in previous campaigns. Dr George Kassianos, RCGP immunisation spokesperson, said practices should order flu vaccine from several suppliers: ‘If you accept flu vaccine is protective not only against flu but also heart attacks, then the earlier you are vaccinated the better.'
A spokesperson for Sanofi-Pasteur MSD said the company was facing ‘an unforeseen bottleneck in packaging facilities': ‘We're doing everything we can to resolve this as quickly as possible.'
A DH spokesperson said: ‘This is just one of several available vaccines, so the majority of deliveries won't be interrupted.'One practice in five hit by flu delays