GPs told to prioritise toddlers amid flu vaccine shortages

Laura Donnelly
All primary school children should be offered the vaccine  - PA 

Schools are to cancel flu vaccinations for thousands of young children amid a national shortage of supplies. 

GPs have been ordered to prioritise toddlers and the sickest children, amid warnings that quarter of deliveries - for around one million children - will now arrive late. 

For the first time, all children aged between two and 11 were due to be eligible for a free nasal spray inoculation, with most receiving them at school. 

But manufacturers have been beset by problems testing the vaccine, called Fluenz Tetra, resulting in the hold-ups.

Some schools will need to reschedule vaccination sessions which were planned for this month,, Public Health England (PHE) said. 

Children who are most at risk, such as those with asthma, should visit their GP if their school session is delayed, PHE said. 

It follows warnings from medics that the NHS could face the worst winter crisis in history - especially if the “Aussie flu” -  which saw Australia experience one of its worst flu seasons - has a similar impact in the UK. Australia’s season began two months earlier than normal, and was particularly severe at the start. 

The UK flu season typically begins circulating towards the end of December. 

Officials said they expected all supplies to be in the country by mid December, leaving it for local health services to reschedule sessions which were postponed. 

Flu vaccinations for children have been gradually rolled out among different age groups since 2013.

Pupils in year six at school were added to the programme this winter, meaning that it now covers all children between the ages of two and 11.

Laurent Abuaf, country president at AstraZeneca UK, said: "We realise how important it is to deliver a full supply of vaccine to the NHS and are doing everything possible to minimise the delay of these affected batches.

"As part of our normal product release process, we need to repeat some tests before a portion of our vaccine supply can be released and delivered.

"It is paramount that all batches complete the testing process before they can be supplied, and we are working as fast as possible to achieve this.

"We are committed to working in partnership with Public Health England and the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) to support the earliest possible delivery of all the nasal spray vaccine needed for the NHS childhood seasonal flu immunisation programme."

Dr Mary Ramsay, head of immunisation at Public Health England, said: "We are working with AstraZeneca and NHS England and Improvement to ensure that all eligible children get their flu vaccine as soon as possible.

"Children who have underlying medical conditions that make them more vulnerable to flu will be prioritised by GPs first."

The majority of the flu vaccine has already been made available to GPs and schools, PHE said.