Thousands of British children face flu vaccine delay as officials tell schools to reschedule November immunisations after drug firm’s testing problems
- Public Health England has issued an update to the ongoing delays
- It said some schools would have to reschedule their vaccination sessions
- Drug firm AstraZeneca said it was having to redo some tests on the vaccines
Schools will have to reschedule flu vaccines for their pupils because of a supply delay, Public Health England has confirmed.
A quarter of the nasal spray vaccines which are given out in schools will be delivered later than expected.
Pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca said some of its testing processes hadn’t worked and that it’s had to redo them as a result.
This means some schools will have to reschedule vaccination sessions they had planned for the middle of November.
The NHS says the best time to have the jab – which can protect particularly vulnerable people like the young and old – is in October or November.
GPs have been told to prioritise vulnerable youngsters with underlying conditions, ensuring they are the first to get the nasal spray (stock)
‘We are working with AstraZeneca and NHS England and Improvement to ensure that all eligible children get their flu vaccine as soon as possible,’ said Public Health England’s Dr Mary Ramsay.
‘Children who have underlying medical conditions that make them more vulnerable to flu will be prioritised by GPs first.’
FEARS FLU VACCINE MAY NOT BE EFFECTIVE
This year’s flu vaccine may not be effective, a top expert at the University of British Columbia warned last week ahead of the winter outbreak.
Flu shots have to be newly developed ahead of each season based on predictions of which strains will be most active in the coming months.
World Health Organization (WHO) officials choose the strains in February, and chose those for the Southern Hemisphere last week.
For the Southern Hemisphere, officials chose influenza A/H3N2 and B/Victoria – different ones from the strains picked for the North.
Dr Skowronski said that it suggests that the prior prediction was wrong and the Northern shots may be ineffective.
PHE said the sessions would be rearranged for ‘as soon as possible’ but that children at high-risk, such as asthmatics, should visit their GP instead.
The delay only affects some batches of AstraZeneca’s Fluenz Tetra which haven’t been sent out yet – it’s not clear exactly how many.
Adult flu vaccines are unaffected but some children’s immunisations will be delayed by the error.
AstraZeneca, which has headquarters in Cambridge, has had to push back deliveries because of an ‘issue detected during routine product release processes’.
It is repeating the tests because of this, meaning it will take longer to get the vaccines out to schools and doctors’ surgeries.
But PHE insists there will be enough for all eligible children to have a free vaccination. They are offered to all pupils between the ages of two and 11.
AstraZeneca’s president for England, Laurent Abuaf, said: ‘We realise how important it is to deliver a full supply of vaccine to the NHS and are doing everything possible to minimise the delay of these affected batches.
‘As part of our normal product release process, we need to repeat some tests before a portion of our vaccine supply can be released and delivered.’
What’s gone wrong?
AstraZeneca, the sole supplier of the flu nasal spray for children, has not finished testing the vaccine on time.
This means batches that were supposed to arrive in pharmacies, GP surgeries and schools in October and November have not yet been delivered.
A quarter of the total supply has not arrived on time.
How many children are affected?
There are no precise figures but the delay could affect up to a million of the 4.7million children aged 11 and under who are offered the nasal spray on the NHS.
Public Health England is liaising with individual schools to let them know if they need to postpone any planned clinics.
What should parents do?
Parents of children who have underlying health problems such as asthma or any chronic illnesses have been urged to take them to their GP, where they will be given priority for any stocks of the nasal or injected vaccine.
Other parents should not worry because all vaccine stocks are expected to arrive in the UK by the end of December, when flu usually begins circulating.
Why can’t children have the injection instead?
The spray is more effective in children than the injection – and there is a limited supply of injections because they are made to order depending on the number needing them per GP surgery.
Wasn’t there a flu jab fiasco last year?
Yes, there was a supply problem with the jabs for over-65s which meant thousands were vaccinated later than usual.
The immunisation programme is particularly liable to glitches because a new set of vaccines are manufactured each year, depending on which strains of flu are likely to be circulating.
Scientists only make their recommendations for the formula in March or April.
This means pharmaceutical firms have just six months to manufacture, test and distribute them.