Britons ‘at risk’ from deadly Australian flu after jab delays

By Laura Donnelly, Health Editor

THE NHS is scrambling to get hold of the right flu jabs in time for this winter, amid fears millions will not be protected against a deadly “Aussie” strain.

Health officials say delays by the World Health Organisation (WHO) in selecting the vaccine for this winter mean that some jabs will not be delivered to GPs until the end of November.

Increase in viruses detected which would not be effectively dealt with by existing vaccine strains

Normally flu vaccinations are offered by the NHS from September.

In a letter, seen by The Daily Telegraph, health officials urge GPs and pharmacists to check when their stocks will be delivered.

They said manufacturers have warned that the lateness of the WHO’s decision will mean some vaccine supplies arrive later than normal.

The WHO typically makes its recommendations about which strains of flu to protect against in February.

But this year, it delayed a decision on one strain – H3N2 – for a month, in a bid to adjust to mutations in the key strains in circulation.

Since then, the virus has been dominant in Australia, currently experiencing one of its worst flu seasons.

Now in the depths of winter, it has already had three times as many deaths as in the whole season last year, with around eight times as many laboratory confirmed cases as normal.

NHS officials hope that the jabs will arrive ahead of the UK’s flu season, which typically starts in December.

The delays affect the “quadrivalent” jabs used for pregnant women and adults with health problems, such as asthma or diabetes. Other types of vaccinations are offered to those aged 65 and over, using a boost to improve immune response, while children are given vaccination via nasal spray.

The letter from Mary Ramsay, head of immunisation at Public Health England, and Deborah Tomalin, director of public health commissioning and operations at NHS England, has been sent to all GPs and community pharmacists in England.

It says the WHO’s delayed recommendations “in response to a recent increase in the proportion of viruses detected which would not be effectively dealt with by its existing vaccine strains” are now set to have knock-on effects across the NHS.

“Sanofi Pasteur has indicated it plans to phase some of the deliveries of the inactivated Quadrivalent influenza vaccines for those at risk and under-65s, with some vaccines being delivered by the end of November ahead of when the flu season usually starts.”

The drugs giant is one of four companies issuing vaccines this year.

All GPs are now being urged to contact manufacturers to check when stocks will be delivered, in order to plan scheduling of appointments.

The disclosures come amid growing concern about how the NHS will cope this winter. Last month, 471 NHS patients waited for at least 12 hours on a trolley after arrival at A&Es. In June 2012, just two patients waited this long.

Grahame White