Last updated:

Flu jab shortage threat to vulnerable patients

Flu jab sign 2014 16x9

The leader of Scotland’s doctors has warned that issues with securing a supply of a new and more effective flu vaccine would potentially put vulnerable patients at risk and add to pressures on health services this winter.

It emerged this week that people in Scotland aged 65 to 74 would not receive the recommended flu vaccine because of a shortage of supplies; only patients aged 75 and over will be offered the enhanced jab, which is thought to offer increased protection for older immune systems, while those in the younger age group will be offered a less effective version.

BMA Scottish council chair Lewis Morrison blamed the Scottish Government for the ‘failure’ to obtain enough of the new vaccine and called for procurement systems to be reviewed.

In a letter to Scotland’s chief medical officer Catherine Calderwood, he warned: ‘The situation we are left with will mean a large group of some of the most vulnerable adults will not have access to the most effective vaccine available to them this winter.

'I fear it may be too late to rectify the situation this year, but I would welcome clarification on that point, and reassurance that everything possible is being done to prevent a repeat of the extreme pressures we saw on our NHS in winter last year.’


Mixed results

Dr Morrison said it was clear to him as a geriatrician that last year’s vaccine hadn’t been as effective as had been hoped, with ‘serious knock-on consequences’ for patients and for health services struggling to cope with demand.

A Scottish Government spokesperson said that discussions with the drug manufacturer began in December last year, shortly after the UK’s joint committee on vaccinations and immunisations recommended the new aTIV (adjuvant trivalent inactivated flu vaccine).

Although NHS National Services Scotland, which is responsible for procurement, took steps to truncate the usual procurement process, the manufacturer could not guarantee enough supplies.

‘In line with expert clinical advice, the aTIV vaccine will be offered to people aged 75 and over this winter, as they have been identified of gaining the most benefit from the new vaccine. It will be rolled out to all those aged 65 and over from next winter,' the spokesperson said.

‘It is important to stress that the flu vaccine offered to those ages 65 to 74 this winter still provides flu protection.’

The situation in England is different because GPs order their own vaccine supplies, unlike Scotland where there is a central procurement.

Read more from Jennifer Trueland and follow on Twitter.