GPs in England left waiting up to a month for flu vaccine supplies

Exclusive: Royal College of GPs is seeking assurances that enough doses are available

GP surgeries are waiting up to a month for supplies of this winter’s flu vaccine amid unprecedented numbers of patients seeking jabs ahead of the second wave of Covid-19, family doctors have said.

The Royal College of GPs (RCPG) has written to the health secretary, Matt Hancock, seeking assurances that they will have enough doses of the vaccine to cope with demand. The struggle to get jabs has prompted fears that vulnerable groups, including elderly people and those with underlying conditions, will go unprotected.

“We have heard anecdotally that some surgeries are waiting up to a month for replenished supplies of vaccine, which raises concerns that there are significant distribution problems,” Prof Martin Marshall, the RCGP’s chair and a family doctor in London, said in the letter.

One GP in Nottingham said there had been “a huge uptake compared to previous years, well over what we anticipated” at their surgery among groups eligible for the free jab, “so supplies ran out quickly”.

“The next delivery is several weeks away and there are patients in at-risk groups who are having to wait. We have a patient aged 70 with heart disease who wants the vaccine but we currently have none to give her until the next delivery in mid to late October,” the GP said.

Shortages mean that people aged 50 to 64, who are being offered a jab for the first time on the NHS, may have to wait until those with a greater medical need have been immunised first.

“While we’re most concerned about the at-risk groups such as the elderly, people with long-term conditions and pregnant women, it’s also frustrating that people in the 50-64 age group are coming forward in good faith, yet face being turned away,” Marshall said.

Those people are being asked to show patience even if they missed out at their first attempt to get the vaccine. “This is not about GPs rationing the vaccination, but we must prioritise those in most need and for whom influenza poses the biggest threat.”

High street pharmacies such as Boots, Lloyds Pharmacy and Well Pharmacy recently had to stop taking bookings while they awaited fresh supplies.

In his letter, Marshall appears to disbelieve Hancock’s insistence that the only problems are around getting the vaccine to where it is needed, rather than there being shortages. In a plea for ministers to be “as transparent as possible about shortages”, Marshall adds: “It will not be helpful for practices or acceptable to patients if current claims that there are no supply problems are exposed as overly optimistic in coming months.”

Dr Helen Salisbury, a GP in Oxford and columnist with the BMJ, said: “Our first problem is the number of people in traditionally eligible groups wanting the vaccine has increased as people are more aware of the dangers of viral illnesses. Secondly, Boris Johnson promised that eligibility would be extended to everyone over 50, without as far as I can tell working out whether the vaccine manufacturers could increase supply.

“We haven’t run out yet, but I fear we probably will even before November when the over-50s have been told they can have what’s left.”

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “There is no national shortage of the flu vaccine, with enough doses for 30 million people to be vaccinated in England. The vaccine is already being delivered for those in at-risk groups, including the over-65s and this will continue throughout the winter months, so there is still time for those eligible people to get their vaccinations.”


Denis Campbell Health policy editor

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
UK to begin using Oxford Covid vaccine as PM strikes hopeful tone
Boris Johnson says he hopes pace of vaccination can be ramped up to protect tens of millions in months

Sarah Boseley Health editor

03, Jan, 2021 @7:46 PM

Article image
Ministers urged to strip away red tape to hit UK vaccine rollout target
Doctors say 24/7 vaccine centres and recruiting retired health workers could help reach goal

Linda Geddes Science correspondent

01, Jan, 2021 @6:13 PM

Article image
Boris Johnson says 'anti-vaxxers are nuts'
Prime minister urges people to use expanded programme of free winter flu jabs

Peter Walker Political correspondent

24, Jul, 2020 @9:35 AM

Article image
Flu vaccine could be ordered by government

Central purchasing of the vaccine is likely after some GPs run out of stock

Sarah Boseley, health editor

20, Jan, 2011 @5:16 PM

Article image
Covid vaccine: chief medical officers defend rescheduling of second doses
Statement follows outcry from GPs who say cancelling appointments is waste of time and could lead to confusion among patients

Nicola Davis and Linda Geddes

31, Dec, 2020 @7:46 PM

Article image
'It shows what we're capable of': the NHS's vaccine triumph
A huge effort has helped the UK provide 14m first doses of Covid vaccines in about two months

Dan Sabbagh

12, Feb, 2021 @4:33 PM

Article image
Military will help distribute Covid-19 vaccine, says Hancock
Health secretary tells Tory conference a vaccine is the ‘great hope’ as he hails Covid app

Alexandra Topping and Lisa O'Carroll

04, Oct, 2020 @6:01 PM

Article image
GP staff receive abuse every day over Covid vaccine reminders
Staff making reminder calls are being threatened for carrying out NHS work, say doctors’ leaders

Denis Campbell Health policy editor

14, Jul, 2021 @11:02 AM

Article image
GPs in England see big drop in common cold and flu cases
Exclusive: coronavirus restrictions and increased uptake of flu vaccine is likely explanation, say experts

Linda Geddes

10, Jan, 2021 @2:12 PM

Article image
Mandatory Covid jabs for healthcare workers in England to be scrapped
Frontline NHS staff will no longer require vaccination as Sajid Javid also drops requirement for care workers

Andrew Gregory Health editor

01, Mar, 2022 @6:49 PM