Half a million Scottish pensioners will not receive a life saving updated flu jab this winter because of a procurement blunder, despite a four-fold rise in the country’s flu deaths last year.
The jab containing an updated strain of the vaccine will be available to over-65s in England, but only to over-75s in Scotland because of a mistake in timing of the procurement process.
The Scottish National Party also blamed the new vaccine’s sole supplier, which was “unable to guarantee NHS Scotland sufficient supply” in time for the 2018 vaccination programme.
Scottish minister for public health Joe Fitzpatrick told the Scottish parliament at Holyrood that the procurement body NHS National Services Scotland had completed orders for this year’s vaccine before the UK’s expert advisory group recommended using a new strain.
As a result, 564,000 Scots aged 65 to 75 will have to make do with an older vaccine which the NHS described as having only “relatively small additional health benefits” among over-65s.
The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation group (JCVI), said in October last year that the current Quadrivalent influenza vaccines (QIV) used in the UK had “low effectiveness” in over-65s, recommending the new adjuvanted trivalent influenza vaccine (aTIV) designed to compensate for the weaker immune systems of older people.
But, Fitzpatrick said, NHS National Services Scotland began procurement “in early autumn” for the following flu season to “ensure that it can acquire the volume of flu vaccines that is required”.
“That meant that the procurement exercise for this year’s flu season had already concluded when the JCVI made its recommendations,” he said.
Labour MSP Anas Sarwar said: “This is so concerning because the number of flu deaths in Scotland rose from 71 in 2016-17 to more than 330 in 2017-18.”
Fitzpatrick also took aim at drug manufacturer Seqirus, which is the sole supplier.
“The new aTIV vaccine is manufactured by only one supplier, which had to significantly ramp up its production for the whole of the UK very quickly. Unfortunately, it was unable to guarantee NHS Scotland sufficient supply of the vaccine for everyone over 65 in time for the start of this year’s vaccination programme,” he said.
In England, concerns about over-reliance on one supplier were raised in February by City and Hackney local pharmaceutical committee, which represents pharmacies in the two areas of London.
It tweeted: “Dreading the over reliance on ONE supplier for a-TIV… With the new guidance there’s going to be very little TIV out there.”
But there are no expected shortages in England and Wales, where the vaccines are procured by individual GP surgeries rather than the central procurement system used in Scotland.
A spokesperson for Seqirus said: “Seqirus and NHS Scotland finalised a supply agreement at the end of April, which included phased delivery of FLUAD doses as per the arrangements for all customers across the UK.”
“The decisions taken by NHS Scotland as to the quantity of doses ordered and the age groups in which the vaccine is to be used is a matter for them.”
SM has approached NHS National Services Scotland for comment.