In Brief

Flu jabs shortage ‘may scupper government’s new vaccine targets’

Officials’ warning triggers calls from GPs for guidance on who should be prioritised

The NHS does not have sufficient flu vaccine stocks to fulfil the government’s pledge to offer free jabs to 30 million people in England this winter, officials have admitted.

Boris Johnson last month set out plans to double the reach of the annual flu vaccination campaign to include adults aged over 50 and children in the first year of secondary school. The ambitious plan is intended to prevent what The Guardian describes as “the nightmare scenario” of a bad flu season alongside a resurgence of Covid-19.

But according to The Times, officials say the government has only bought enough flu jabs to vaccinate 75% of those eligible and “would have to try to buy extra stock if more came forward”. 

In a letter sent to GPs and other NHS staff this week outlining plans to set up drive-through flu jab centres, England’s Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty said that healthy people aged between 50 and 64 would be vaccinated “subject to supply”.

The admission has triggered alarm in the health service, “with family doctors demanding to know who should have priority if stocks run low”, the newspaper reports.

Martin Marshall, head of the Royal College of GPs, said that doctors “need clear guidance who, outside of those patients most at risk, should be prioritised for a flu jab - and there needs to be clear public messaging that this is the case to manage patients’ expectations”.

The shortages admission comes amid reports that the Department of Health and Social Care has talked about using flu vaccines that have yet to be licensed in order to top up the country’s stocks.

According to GP news site Pulse, records from a meeting of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation say that officials “considered products that were not currently licensed in the UK, but which may be gaining a licence in time for the 2020-21” season.

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