RCGP writes to health secretary with concerns over flu vaccines

College chair Martin Marshall has written to Matt Hancock following reports from RCGP members of flu vaccine shortages and their concerns for patients in ‘at risk’ groups such as the elderly, those with pre-existing conditions, and pregnant women

The letter reads as follows:

Dear Secretary of State

I am writing to you about concerns with the supply and demand of flu vaccinations.

The flu jab is the best protection we have against influenza and it is essential that as many people as possible in at-risk groups get their vaccination when flu season begins. This is ever more important this year as GPs undertake an expanded flu vaccination programme and we face a potentially serious second wave of Covid-19.

Practices plan meticulously each year to deliver vaccination programmes on a mass scale and preparations have long been underway to deliver this year’s expanded flu programme. GPs typically order flu vaccines at least six months in advance and many will have put in orders before the Covid-19 pandemic. GPs are reporting that they have already experienced increase demand amongst certain groups, and the additional cohort of children and over 50s were included in this year’s programme at a late stage.

GPs are currently working hard to ensure that priority is given to those in traditional ‘at risk’ groups, such as the elderly, those with pre-existing health conditions, and pregnant women. I am sure you will agree it is crucial that we prioritise these patients with the most urgent need, but we are increasingly concerned with reports from practices, pharmacies and patient groups that suggest there is an issue with supply of flu vaccines.

We have heard anecdotally that some surgeries are waiting up to a month for replenished supply of vaccine which raises concerns that there are significant distribution problems. It is crucial that the Government are as transparent as possible about any shortages that may occur, so that GPs can make appropriate planning decisions. 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.

We know that many practices are already running evening and weekend flu clinics, whilst adhering to social distancing measures. Many practices are also collaborating with neighbouring practices delivering flu vaccines in non-typical settings such as large community centres, ‘drive through’ clinics, or car parks. These practices must be reassured that they will sufficient flu stocks as we approach winter.

I hope you can provide me with some assurance that there is sufficient supply of the vaccine and that any distributions problems will be communicated to GPs as a matter of urgency.

Yours sincerely,

Professor Martin Marshall, Chair of Council RCGP

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