Swine flu may cause winter flu jab shortage

GPs across the UK are set to face a shortage of seasonal flu jabs this winter leaving patients at risk, as manufacturers switch production to swine flu vaccines.

(Photograph: iStockphoto/zorani)
(Photograph: iStockphoto/zorani)

Earlier this week, Dr Margaret Chan, director general of the World Health Organisation (WHO), announced that the move to influenza pandemic alert phase 5 was a signal to governments and pharmaceutical companies to ramp up preparedness and response.

In a statement, Dr Chan said that she had ‘reached out to influenza vaccine manufacturers that can contribute to the production of a pandemic vaccine'.

In the UK, ‘sleeping contracts' with vaccine manufacturers are in place to produce 132 million doses of a pandemic-specific vaccine.

But Berkshire GP Dr George Kassianos, RCGP immunisation spokesman, warned that a switch in vaccine production to swine flu would lead to shortages of the seasonal flu jab.

 ‘If we switch vaccine production, then come October we will not have a vaccine available for seasonal flu.

 ‘There is no way that the manufacturers have the capacity and technology to produce enough of the seasonal flu jabs.

 ‘Seasonal flu jabs are already in production, this started back in February when they identified the strains, but this will have to be halted if we are to switch production to a different vaccine.'

As it takes at least six months for flu jabs to be made and then tested, delays will be inevitable, he said.

Dr Nigel Higson, a Brighton GP and virologist, added that a production of swine flu vaccines could lead to a shortage of the hens eggs needed for the production of seasonal flu jabs.

‘I do not believe there is a reserve capacity for making the two vaccines, so there may well be delays in the production of seasonal flu jabs.'

sanjay.tanday@haymarket.com

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