Pharmacies across England are struggling to keep up with the demand for the flu vaccine, pausing online bookings and limiting it to those most in need.
The country’s three largest pharmacy chains – Boots, LloydsPharmacy and Well Pharmacy – have all reported unprecedented demand after a government vaccination campaign to reduce the pressure on the NHS during a second wave of Covid-19.
GP surgeries and pharmacies are to receive stocks of the flu vaccine in phased deliveries over coming weeks and months. But the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee said: “Some pharmacies report they are temporarily out of stock of some vaccines ahead of their next scheduled delivery and in some cases, all of their stock has already been administered to patients.”
Boots announced earlier this week that it had stopped taking bookings from under-65s who want the flu jab, after stocks ran low because of a record number of requests.
LloydsPharmacy has now had to pause online bookings owing to unprecedented demand. “In the first week of flu season we have already vaccinated 10 times more people compared to last year,” a spokesperson said. “We are reassuring customers that there are enough vaccines available for those who have booked appointments.” The company was asking customers to provide their contact details so it could get in touch when online booking resumed.
Well Pharmacy, the third largest chain after Boots UK and LloydsPharmacy, said during the first week of their flu jab service there had been a 68% increase in uptake compared with the same week last year.
On Wednesday afternoon it changed its online booking system to focus on those eligible for the free NHS flu jab. It said it was still offering the vaccination for £12.50 to walk-in private patients, but had removed the paid-for option from its website booking system to make sure the vulnerable could access the jab. So far, more than 40,000 people had booked.
Anyone over the age of 65 is eligible to a free NHS flu vaccination, as well as those of any age with identified health conditions. Pharmacies also offer a private service for around £13 to those who fall outside of these groups. Flu kills between 4,000 and 22,000 people in England every year, with 8,000 people dying from it last year.
The government has bought a record number of flu vaccine doses, with 30m arriving in batches. GP letters calling older people and people with medical conditions for immunisation are expected to be sent out this week.
Robbie Turner, of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society, said: “We have been told by the government that there are adequate supplies of the flu vaccine. However, at a time of increased demand, some pharmacies have had to slow down the rate of vaccination … We will continue to talk with the government on the supply of vaccines and how pharmacists can support those who are most at risk.”