Fears that stocks of vital flu vaccine may be running low

Reporter:

Claire Gallagher and Helen Davies

HEALTH centres are struggling to get hold of flu vaccines.

Doctors and pharmacists across Flintshire and Wrexham have come to the end of their swine flu and general flu vaccines.

Barry Harrison, pharmacist and former chairman of the Flintshire Local Health Board, said flu vaccines were not available last Thursday and his suppliers said there wouldn’t be any available until at least the following day.

Staff at the Quay Medical Centre in Connah’s Quay resorted to going to Boots in Broughton to buy more vaccines to stock their practice.

Dr Tim Davies, from The Quay Medical Centre, who is also co-vice chairman of the North Wales Local Medical Committee, said: “We were short last week, we ran out but one of our pharmaceutical assistants said Boots had overstocked so we went there to buy some more. We thought uptake was poor but now more people are coming forward.

“Doctors didn’t want to overstock but now they’re finding they don’t have enough.”

A spokesman for Boots in Broughton said: “We’ve got plenty of stock in our store at the moment.”

Janet Shields, practice manager at the Marches Medical Practice in Buckley, added: “We’ve been vaccinating since September, we’ve done 3,000 patients. We’re at the end now as we had all the vaccines up front.

“We invited people in from the ‘at risk’ group to come in. We tell people who ask for it now that we’ll put them on a waiting list and advise them to go to Boots or Tesco for the vaccine. We haven’t had any surplus this year.”

Mr Harrison blames the shortages on the way the vaccine is being distributed this year.

Last year the NHS distributed vaccines from a national centre, but this year health centres order from separate suppliers.

“I can’t understand why GPs are allowed to control how many vaccines they order,” said Mr Harrison.

“It’s difficult to get a picture of what’s going on because there could be some GPs who have ordered lots and not used them.

“With the Tamiflu vaccine last year the NHS distributed them. It would make sense if the NHS took the profits, rather than the GPs who can make 45 per cent profit on the vaccines.

“It needs a change of procedure instead of people having to ring round to find out who’s got them.”

Dr Tony Jewell, the Chief Medical Officer for Wales, said: "Many people think that flu is just a bad cold, but in fact it can be much worse and can lead to other severe health complications.

“Vaccines are one of the most effective public health interventions for saving lives and protecting our health. They are the simplest and safest way of protecting people from seasonal flu and its complications. It is really important that people who are in at-risk groups do get vaccinated."

In Wrexham, Artur Jablonowski, pharmacy manager at Alexander's Pharmacies in Caia Park, said many chemists and surgeries are out of stock of the flu jab.

“As far as I know they are out of stock everywhere,” he said.
“Chemists and surgeries have a problem.

“I think there is a shortage on the market.

“It’s the first time there has been this kind of problem.”

Mr Jablonowski said he is having to give his vaccine supplies to local surgeries.

“I don’t think they were prepared for the high amount of vaccinations,” he said.

“With the flu going around many more people are willing to be vaccinated.”

One patient contacted the Leader to say he had phoned two surgeries in Wrexham to be told they had run out of the vaccine, which now also protects against swine flu.

The patient, who did not want to be named, said he had an underlying heart condition and added: “They said to call back next Thursday and to be honest it’s a bit scary.

“I would have thought they would put out some kind of alert if they had run out.

“I was invited a while back for the jab and I admit I have put it off but seeing the alerts and people dying has worried me.”

Leader doctor Peter Saul, of The Health Centre in Rhos, said: “Normally speaking most practices will have expected to complete the vaccinations by now – we have to order the right amount for the year.

“The problem is the late surge has meant there has not been sufficient supplies.

“Many surgeries are looking to get extra supplies in.

“It will be those who are most at risk who will get the vaccine.”

Dr Saul added that from speaking to a microbiologist at the Countess of Chester Hospital, the majority of flu in the area is not swine flu.

Nans Edwards, practice manager of the Alstead Surgery in St George’s Crescent, said their supplies of vaccine were fine.

“Like all practices we are only able to give the vaccines to the priority groups,” she said.

“But the supply levels are fine.”

Barbara Wright, of the Crane Medical Centre in Cefn Mawr, said: “We’re going to order some more (of the vaccine) because of the number of people asking for it who wouldn’t normally have it.”

Kevin Strudwick, practice manager of Caergwrle Medical Practice, said: “We have had a good uptake of the vaccine from our target population.

“We haven’t got a shortage of supply at all.”

A spokesman for Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board said: “Health board managers, doctors and nurses are working together to ensure a supply of flu vaccine to high risk groups of patients. These will be patients with known respiratory illness, such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and pregnant women.

“We are monitoring this situation very closely.”

- In December, Public Health Wales reminded people in at-risk groups of the importance of flu vaccination, which this season also protects against the H1N1 strain.

Vaccination is offered in Wales to people over the age of 65, people with health conditions that make them more likely to suffer complications from flu, frontline healthcare workers and pregnant women.

Anyone with concerns about their health should contact their GP or NHS Direct Wales on 0845 46 47.

See full story in the Leader

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