Northern Ireland

Health chiefs insist there is no shortage of winter flu jab

Worldwide demand for the winter flu jabs has led to shortages of the vaccine
Worldwide demand for the winter flu jabs has led to shortages of the vaccine Worldwide demand for the winter flu jabs has led to shortages of the vaccine

HEALTH officials last night moved to reassure the over-65s they will receive their winter flu jab and insisted there is "no shortage" of the vaccine following GP concerns about limited doses.

In a detailed statement, the Public Health Agency (PHA) said the annual vaccination programme for at-risk groups was going ahead as planned.

Dr Gerry Waldron, head of health protection at the agency, said he wanted to respond to warnings made by the NI GP Committee (NIGPC) about a major shortfall in vaccines for the older population, which equated to around 200,000 doses.

Dr Alan Stout, NIGPC chair, told the BBC yesterday he was "deeply concerned and frustrated about the shortfall" and was seeking permission from the Chief Medical Officer to administer a separate flu jab for the under-65s to the over-65s.

Fears were also expressed that delays in administering the vaccine to older people will impact on their ability to receive a Covid-19 vaccine which, if approved, could be available to vulnerable groups by the end of next month.

There must be a gap of at least three weeks between each jab.

But Dr Waldron said he felt the comments may cause "undue alarm" to those who are still to receive the jab "especially during the coronavirus pandemic".

Last month the PHA was forced to suspend the programme for the under-65s due to "phenomenal" demand.

Dr Waldron said: "As we outlined in October, uptake has been exceptional, with people getting the vaccine in higher numbers than ever before, so a temporary pause was placed on some aspects of the seasonal flu programme until further stock became available.

"As was planned from the outset, vaccines have been and will continue to be distributed in phased deliveries, in line with manufacturer production arrangements, and well in advance of when flu is circulating in the community. As of now, in excess of 1 million flu vaccines are in Northern Ireland for use in eligible groups of people - this is on target.

"For those aged over 65, approximately 296,000 vaccines are in Northern Ireland - this is the full amount that was planned.

"We can also confirm that the outstanding deliveries of vaccine for the under-65s have arrived into Northern Ireland as scheduled so we want to emphasise that there is no shortage for this group. The supplies are being checked and will be available for GPs to order soon, and they will be able to organise their clinics well in advance of the flu season, as was planned."

The PHA doctor said it was always anticipated that stock would arrive in "planned batches", but due to the initial batch being used up so quickly it was "simply not possible" to continue vaccination clinics until the next planned tranche of doses became available.

"The overall amount of vaccine that is available through the programme is in fact higher than originally planned as further stock has been secured. There is no shortage and vaccination will occur as envisaged well before flu is circulating in our community," Dr Waldron added.

Health minister Robin Swann also told the assembly yesterday there is no shortage of flu vaccines, with more than 1 million doses deliver so far.