An NHS England spokesperson said:
“GPs and pharmacists were given more than two months to order the vaccine, there is more than enough to meet expected demand and what’s more, older people will be better protected this year than ever before as they will be offered the most effective jab available anywhere in the world. We expect pharmacists and GPs to get everyone vaccinated before the end of the year when flu usually hits.”
Inactivated influenza vaccine recommendations for 2018/19.
In previous years, the majority of the inactivated vaccines available in the UK have been trivalent vaccines, containing two subtypes of Influenza A virus strains and one Influenza B virus strain. The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) has considered both vaccine efficacy and cost-effectiveness of influenza vaccines, based on evidence from the 2016/17 and 2017/18 seasons. As a result, it recommended the following vaccines for the 2018/19 season:
• the adjuvanted trivalent influenza vaccine (aTIV) for those aged 65 years. This is based on the fact that the immune response of this age group to vaccines that do not contain the adjuvant has been poor in previous years
• a quadrivalent influenza vaccine (QIV) for those aged 18 to under 65 years and in an at-risk group, as this would offer a public health benefit and potential reduction in terms of influenza-related GP consultations and hospitalisations
• a live, attenuated quadrivalent influenza vaccine (LAIV) - unless contraindicated – for children aged from two years to less than 18 years.
Further information on this programme can be found on the national flu immunisation programme page.
Availability of vaccine
The primary care sector was told in February and March about the new vaccine for patients aged over 65 and that this would be provided via a phased delivery schedule. As there is only one licensed manufacturer of this vaccine, the vaccine is being delivered to GPs and pharmacies in three tranches over September, October and November for logistical reasons and to ensure equity.
There is no shortage of the vaccine, but as orders are placed by individual practices and pharmacies, it is their responsibility to ensure that they have ordered sufficient vaccine for their local/registered eligible population.
All pharmacies and practices had (according to the vaccine supplier) their order-schedule confirmed by the end of August. Advice has been given to them on the need to plan clinics in light of this schedule and the staggered delivery this year.
All practices and pharmacies have also been given permission via the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) to move vaccine around within their community to meet demand. As long as they adhere to prescribed safety criteria for storing and transporting the vaccines, there is no clinical risk in doing so.
NHS England, Public Health England, clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) and professional groups that represent GPs and pharmacists have been working together to map local supplies of vaccine and to develop plans to ensure access for patients. If there is an outbreak in an area or specific need, then there should be more than enough vaccine to deal with that and we would expect individual providers, CCGs and regional NHSE co-ordinators to work together to deal with it.
GPs and pharmacists have a responsibility to advise patients on how they can access the vaccine, which may include signposting to other providers or advising patients that the clinics may be staggered and that they may have to wait for a later delivery to attend. Patients may choose to get the vaccine at their GP or at a local pharmacy.
The flu season does not normally peak until later in December/January, so as long as patients are able to have the recommended vaccine before the end of November they should still be protected against flu.