Thousands of patients will have to wait to receive their winter flu jab after one of the NHS’s main suppliers warned GP surgeries that the vaccine would be delayed by two weeks.
The hold-up involves the flu jab which people aged 16 to 65 and also pregnant women were due to start receiving next month to protect them during the winter months.
It means that patients enrolled at some surgeries – including those whose health makes them more vulnerable to flu – will not be able to have their jab as soon as they wanted.
Sanofi Pasteur, which supplies about a third of the 3m jabs administered by GP practices every year in England, has written to surgeries to alert them to the delay.
The hitch will cause problems for hospitals, which also immunise people against flu, although on a much smaller scale than GPs.
It is understood that manufacturing and packaging problems, rather than Brexit, lie behind the hold-up.
In its letter the firm says 60% of surgeries that were due to receive the first of three planned deliveries of the vaccine in the week beginning 7 October will still do so. However, 25% will not get their deliveries until a week later and 15% will have to wait two weeks, until the week beginning 21 October.
But, the letter adds, deliveries of the second batch of supplies due to start arriving at hospitals and GP practices in the weeks beginning 14 and 21 October respectively will also be delayed, again by one or two weeks. “Impact on second deliveries: 100% of second deliveries delayed”, it says.
Delivery of the third and final supplies, due at hospitals from 4 November and GP practices from 18 November, “remains unchanged at this current time”, the letter adds.
This is the second delay to supplies of Sanofi’s quadrivalent influenza vaccine that it planned to deliver to the NHS this autumn.
The first hold-up occurred in July as a result of the World Health Organization taking longer than expected to decide which strains of flu this winter’s jab should cover.
Under-16s and those over 65 receive a slightly different version of the vaccine to the one affected by this delay.
The jabs are important because flu is thought to kill about 8,000 people a year in England, of whom 6,000 have a serious problem with their heart or lungs.
There are fears that the UK could be hit this winter by the same particularly virulent strain of flu that circulated in Australia over the summer – their winter – which claimed lives.
Individual GP surgeries in England have a contract with the drug firms that make the flu vaccine and purchase it directly, and are then repaid by the NHS for immunising patients.