Pensioners hit by flu vaccine shortage
A FLU vaccine shortage for the over-65s has led to GPs being forced to 'stagger' the jab to thousands of patients in Northern Ireland for the first time.
Pensioners between the ages of 65 to 74 will face delays of up to three months in receiving the vaccine despite a public awareness campaign being launched yesterday to encourage all those eligible to come forward.
Elderly people over the age of 75 will be given priority for vaccination while children and 'at-risk' groups under the age of 65 - who receive a different vaccine - will not be affected by delays.
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The development comes as new figures reveal that 22 people died from flu last year while the number of patients treated in intensive care units and high dependency wards more than doubled from 2016, with 119 cases hospitalised.
The Irish News understands that GPs had asked the health service to issue a media release referencing the shortage and the fact pensioners will be hit.
However Dr Michael McKenna, a GP in west Belfast, said pensioners were still unaware of the development.
He said he had already been approached by an over 65s couple who usually get their jab every September querying why they had been turned away.
"I had to spend 10 minutes explaining why they could not receive it.
"This is the first time this has ever happened and a sizeable cohort of people will turn up expecting to get their vaccine and will be left disappointed.
"It is disconcerting that we will not be meeting their expectations," he said.
"In my practice there are over 200 people alone within the 64 -75 age group. You may have a 60-year-old coming in with their elderly 80-year-old parent, with one able to get vaccinated this month while the other has to wait."
Letters sent to GPs by the Public Health Agency (PHA) at the end of July informed them of the supply problem for the elderly and that the vaccines will be arriving in "three staggered deliveries".
"This is not the preferred option but is the same across the UK and is beyond the control of Devolved Government Departments of Health and their public health authorities," the PHA letter said.
The PHA yesterday launched a campaign encouraging parents to get their children vaccinated against flu.
When asked about the shortage of the vaccine for pensioners, a PHA spokeswoman confirmed it would be "staggered over the months of September, October and November due to production capacity".