UK-wide shingles vaccination has been put back years because the DH has not negotiated supply of the vaccine ahead of other countries, GP has learned.
In 2010 the DH announced that all 4.5m people in the UK aged 70-79 would be offered shingles vaccination, provided a licensed vaccine can be obtained at a reasonable cost.
The shingles vaccine Zostavax has been licensed in the UK since 2006, but was only made available last week, on a private-prescription basis.
Supply problems have limited availability of the vaccine because the virus its uses is complicated to grow on the scale needed for vaccine production.
RCGP immunisation lead Dr George Kassianos said vaccines were only being supplied to fulfil long-term contracts and the UK had not negotiated such agreements.
‘There isn’t enough vaccine available in the world to satisfy anything else but firm long-term contracts and the UK has not negotiated such a programme,’ he told GP.
‘Those countries that negotiated early got the vaccine, knowing there was, and still is, a manufacturing capacity issue.’
In the US, Zostavax was available soon after being licensed in June 2006 and it has been in Canada since 2009. Sales figures suggest that at least 5m doses have been supplied since its launch.
Sanofi Pasteur MSD, which markets Zostavax in the UK, is making 60,000 doses available in the UK on private prescription, at a cost to patients of £99.96. GPs can issue and administer the vaccine as part of their NHS work, but patients must pay for it privately at a pharmacy.
Sanofi Pasteur MSD wanted to supply the vaccine to a high-risk subgroup through the NHS, but the DH was unable to identify a suitable group.
The company is working to increase production, aiming to launch a UK-wide vaccination scheme in the coming years.
A DH spokesman told GP: ‘We want to introduce a national immunisation programme and are disappointed there is not enough vaccine available to do this. When we are assured by industry that sufficient quantities can be supplied at the right price, we will start the programme.’
A spokesman for Sanofi Pasteur MSD said there was a strong argument that, rather being at fault, the DH has been forward-thinking in asking the JCVI to make a recommendation on shingles vaccination.
'From our position, it is Sanofi Pasteur MSD’s responsibility to source the vaccine in sufficient quantities and guarantee a continuous supply of Zostavax in order to support any national immunisation campaign,' he said.