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Vaccination

Major wholesaler says all its vaccination stock is taken for flu season

Exclusive: One of the largest wholesalers of flu vaccines has confirmed that its supplies for this winter are already allocated as shortages continue to be reported across community pharmacy and general practice.

Flu vaccination

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Amid reports of distribution problems, Matt Hancock, the health secretary, has insisted there is enough flu vaccine “to vaccinate every single person who is in a priority group over the age of 65”

A major wholesaler has said that all of its stocks of flu vaccinations for the 2020/2021 winter season are “committed”, although they were “not aware” of any impending significant delays in supply of the vaccine.

The wholesaler, one of the largest in the UK, but which did not want to be identified, told The Pharmaceutical Journal that it was still receiving additional supplies of the different variants of the injections for “under- and over-65s” but that this “phased delivery” was “in line with normal practice”; reflecting the manufacturer’s supply phasing and its network’s fridge capacity.

“We would normally want all stock delivered by early November, because in normal times we would expect the market to begin to quieten down by then,” they added. 

Meanwhile, shortages of the flu vaccines continue to be reported across community pharmacy and general practice.

The Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) wrote to Matt Hancock, the health secretary, on 1 October 2020, saying it was “increasingly concerned with reports from practices, pharmacies and patient groups that suggest there is an issue with supply of flu vaccines”.

It said that it had heard “anecdotally” that some GP surgeries were waiting up to a month for replenished supply of vaccine, which raised concerns that there were “significant distribution problems”.

“It will not be helpful for practices or acceptable to patients if current claims that there are no supply problems are exposed as overly-optimistic in coming months,” the letter continued.

When asked about shortages of flu vaccines in a COVID-19 debate held in the House of Commons on 5 October 2020, Hancock maintained that there was enough flu vaccine “to vaccinate every single person who is in a priority group over the age of 65, those who are clinically vulnerable and the children who are eligible for it”.

He said he had spoken to the president of the RCGP and discussed the need to “make it clear” to GPs, pharmacists and the general public “that we have enough vaccine”.

“We are rolling it out over the months to come,” he told the Commons.

At the end of September 2020, the UK’s largest pharmacy chain, Boots, announced that it had suspended flu vaccination bookings for anyone aged under 65 years, despite ordering 20% more vaccinations than normal.

And the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC) reported that some community pharmacies had used up all their flu vaccination stock.

As part of the government’s COVID-19 response, the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) has worked with several flu vaccine manufacturers to obtain additional supplies of vaccines that, according to the PSNC, would not ordinarily be available in the UK.

These vaccines will be delivered in November and December 2020, and the PSNC said it was discussing with the DHSC how to distribute the government stockpile to community pharmacies, adding that it was pushing for the sector to have a priority call on the stock as soon as it started to arrive in November 2020.

A spokesperson for the DHSC said: “There is no national shortage of the flu vaccine, with enough doses for 30 million people to be vaccinated in England. The vaccine is already being delivered for those in at-risk groups, including the over-65s, and this will continue throughout the winter months, so there is still time for those eligible people to get their vaccinations.”

Citation: The Pharmaceutical Journal DOI: 10.1211/PJ.2020.20208423

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