Health chiefs admit delays in giving flu jab to over-65s as vaccine to be 'phased in'
THE Public Health Agency has admitted there may be "logistical issues" for over-65s receiving the flu jab due to GPs being forced to "stagger" the vaccine for the first time in Northern Ireland.
Health chiefs insisted yesterday there was "no shortage" of the vaccine despite confirming to the Irish News on Monday there was an issue with "production capacity".
The development comes after a high-profile Belfast GP revealed how he had been approached by patients in his practice who usually get their jab every September - but could not get it this year.
Dr Michael McKenna, who is based on Falls Road in west Belfast, said GPs had received a letter from the Public Health Agency (PHA) in late July informing them that a new vaccine for over-65s would be delivered in three staggered phases over the next three months.
While over-75s were to be given priority, thousands of patients between the ages of 65 and 74 would have their vaccine delayed up until November.
Younger 'at-risk' groups under the age of 65 will not be affected.
It is understand that GPs had asked the health service to issue a media release referencing the fact pensioners will be hit by delays for the first time. However, the PHA's annual campaign launch on Monday did not include any information on the problem.
Dr McKenna said the supply shortage was a "European-wide problem" and asked people to be "patient" when trying to get the jab.
"There will be a sizeable cohort turning up to get their vaccination but we won't have it to give it to them. We will have to explain to them that we will not be meeting their expectations, which is disconcerting," he said.
Private correspondence seen by the Irish News issued by the PHA in July shows that 40 per cent of the new vaccine, known as 'Fluad', will be delivered to GPs this month, while a further 20 per cent will be delivered in October and the final 40 per cent will be sent in November. This equates to 184,000 vaccines.
The PHA yesterday issued a release, seeking to "assure" the over-65s there will "enough flu vaccine for them".
"As this is a new vaccine, delivery across the UK will be phased over the months of September, October and November. Everyone who is eligible to receive the vaccine will be able to get it by the end of November, which is still before we anticipate an increase in flu circulation," the statement said.
It added: "While GP surgeries may have to adapt their flu clinic arrangements this year to take account of the staggered introduction of Fluad for over-65s, and we acknowledge that this may present some logistical issues, the fact remains that offering the best available vaccine to people aged over 65 will help protect them and ultimately help reduce pressures on our health service over winter."
Latest figures show a total of 22 people died from flu in the north last year while 119 patients were treated in intensive care units and high dependency wards as a result of flu-related illnesses.