NHS England says 45% of patients aged 65 and over have been vaccinated against flu so far this year - well short of the 69% who were vaccinated by 30 November 2017.
This means GP practices would have to deliver 2.5m jabs - roughly 400 per practice - by the end of the month to match uptake among over 65s at this stage of the flu season.
GPC chair Dr Richard Vautrey told GPonline that the staggered delivery of the flu vaccine recommended for over 65s this winter meant falling behind on uptake of flu vaccination among over 65s was ‘inevitable’.
His comments came as NHS England said deliveries of the vaccine were now complete for all surgeries that placed orders on time - as the health service launched a campaign to promote uptake of a jab it says is 'the most effective in the world'.
Changes to the flu vaccination programme this year saw the adjuvanted trivalent influenza vaccine (aTIV) recommended for patients aged 65 and over for the first time. Stocks of the aTIV vaccine - FLUAD - have been distributed to practices and pharmacies in stages, with 40% sent out in September, 20% in October, and a final 40% this month.
Dr Vautrey said: ‘It was inevitable that there was going to be delay compared with last year because we’ve only just received 40% of the stock. So I would hope that now that has arrived in practices we can get on and book appointments for patients.
‘GPs and practices will do their level best to ensure that patients get protected before flu starts circulating during the winter.’
Complex flu season
GP leaders have warned that practice faced a more ‘complex’ flu season this winter because of the different vaccines recommended for different at-risk groups. Meanwhile, some GP surgeries struggled to obtain vaccine supplies after being told in September that their FLUAD orders could not be fulfilled.
GPonline reported earlier this year that one leading pharmacy chain was forced to pause its vaccination service amid confusion over the vaccination campaign this winter.
However, Dr Vautrey said he was confident that NHS England's uptake ambition of 75% for people aged 65 and over can be met this winter. Last winter the NHS fell just short of the target with 73% uptake among over 65s.
‘I think encouraging patients to attend is always the key,' the GPC chair said. 'Convincing patients of the benefit of the vaccine and then encouraging them to attend for an appointment is the most important thing and so practices will do their level best to try and facilitate that.
‘We have been liaising with NHS England to encourage them to step up their immunisation campaign directly to patients and they have assured us that they are going to do that now that the immunisations are available so hopefully we’ll be getting a much clearer message out to patients that it is now the time to get an appointment and get protected.’
Dr Vautrey added that the GPC had not received any complaints from practices regarding FLUAD shortages since the final delivery earlier this month.
He said: ‘We have been assured that they have now all been sent out. I think practices will now have sufficient supplies to meet the needs of their patients.’
England's CMO Professor Dame Sally Davies said: 'Flu can kill and the vaccine is the single best way to protect yourself and those around you. More vaccines than ever before are now available and I strongly encourage everyone in a vulnerable group to contact their GP or pharmacy and get the jab.'