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Welsh Government delays school flu vaccination programme over supply issues

The Welsh Government has postponed the start of this year’s flu immunisation programme in schools because of delays to vaccine delivery.

Health minister Vaughan Gething announced that children aged four to 10 will not be able to receive their flu jab as scheduled, but did not confirm a new date. 

GPs in Wales have been urged to prioritise vaccination of younger children and those school-age children with the greatest risk from flu infection.

It comes as pharmaceutical supplier Astra Zeneca warned Public Health England – which is responsible for procuring the vaccines on behalf of the UK – of a delay in the delivery of some batches of Fluenz Tetra, which were due to be delivered in November. 

The Welsh Government said delays to the supply of the childhood nasal spray vaccine meant the immunisation programme for primary school age children has been cancelled until ‘sufficient supplies are available’.   

The chief medical officer has advised GPs to prioritise children aged two to three years and those aged two to 17 years in a clinical risk group, including those who would normally receive their flu jab in school.

Mr Gething said: ‘I am writing to inform members that due to factors beyond our control, the primary school flu immunisation programme for children aged 4-10 years will be re-scheduled due to a delay in vaccine supply.

‘I anticipate that the full allocation of vaccines for Wales will be received over the course of the season, and that the school programme will recommence as soon as sufficient supplies are available. Health boards which have vaccines already available in pharmacies can continue an ongoing school programme for as long as is possible, or use the stock to support general practices.’

He added: ‘Whilst this situation is unfortunate and challenging, our priority is to protect as many children as possible from the effects of flu and help reduce its spread in the community to other vulnerable individuals.’

In England, GP practices have been advised to ‘only order vaccine needed for the forthcoming week and to avoid stockpiling’

Official figures released by NHS Digital in September showed that coverage of all 13 childhood vaccinations fell over the last year. 

Meanwhile, NHS Digital said it expects only 40% of practices to have the right IT systems this autumn to receive flu vaccination data electronically from community pharmacies.