GP flu jabs in England hit by vaccine shortages despite government claims of ‘no impact’

Manufacturers have assured the government they have sufficient staff and fuel reserves to deliver the flu vaccines as planned, The Independent has been told, but some surgeries are still waiting to receive their supplies.

GP surgeries in England are continuing to experience delays in the delivery of influenza vaccines – weeks after the government downplayed fears of disruption to the country’s flu programme amid a nationwide shortage of lorry drivers.

GPs in Reading and West Suffolk have recently been forced to cancel vaccination appointments due to the delays, telling patients that the “situation is completely outside of our control”.

One GP in West Suffolk told its patients earlier this week that it is “one of the thousands of surgeries across the country being affected” by distribution issues and delays – despite “having ordered our vaccine 12 months ago to guarantee our delivery date”.

“As a result of this, our vaccine will not arrive in time for the clinic that you were booked into … this situation is completely outside of our control,” the surgery said, adding that it had no option to cancel its appointments.

Seqirus, one of the UK’s largest suppliers of seasonal flu vaccines, said at the beginning of September that a shortage of HGV drivers was expected to push back the delivery of doses by up to two works.

It’s unclear if the continuing delays reported in some parts of the country are linked to the “unforeseen road freight challenges” that were initially encountered by Seqirus, or whether other vaccine manufacturers are similarly struggling to complete their deliveries.

After alerting the government to the challenges it was facing, Seqirus “remodelled” its delivery plans and now anticipates that more than 85 per cent of its vaccines for England and Wales will be delivered to GP clinics and pharmacies by the end of October, a spokesperson for the manufacturer said. The remaining doses are set to be delivered in November.

In Reading, GPs have told patients they will now have to wait a further two weeks to receive their winter flu jab, after initial expectations that vaccine supplies would be available for administration by the end of September.

Balmore Park Surgery, in Caversham, said the road haulage delays meant its rollout had been pushed back from 25 September until 9 October. “Please accept our apologies for the delay but this really is beyond our control,” the GP said, as reported by the Reading Chronicle.

Another surgery, in Tilehurst, said it also hoped to start administering flu vaccine doses on 9 October after a delivery was “unfortunately … delayed again”.

An NHS source said the situation remained “difficult” in parts of England and will need to be monitored moving forward.

The lorry driver shortages and delayed deliveries are expected to impact plans to inoculate people with the flu jab and Covid booster at the same time.

With 50 million booster jabs and more than 30 million flu shots set to be offered to eligible groups in the coming weeks, the government had hoped to co-administer these vaccines to accelerate the rollout and ensure people are protected as soon as possible heading into winter.

However, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation said earlier this month that the dual approach may be “subject to the availability” of both vaccines and, in some cases, might not be practical.

Dr Rajeka Lazarus, the chief investigator for the ComFluCOV study, which looked at the safety of co-administering the flu and Covid vaccines, said “we need to avoid” delaying the rollout of vaccines “because you haven’t got the delivery in for one or the other”.

“If you have your flu vaccine in now but you don’t have your Covid vaccine for a month, then the guidance is not to delay that,” she told a science briefing on Thursday.

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