Jab shortage as fears of 'Aussie flu' epidemic grow

Bethany Minelle, News Reporter

Pharmacies across the UK are running out of the flu vaccine, as fears of a national epidemic continue to grow.

Sky News contacted six branches of Boots across the UK - in London, Birmingham, Sheffield, Leeds, Glasgow and Belfast - but none were able to provide flu jabs this weekend.

The London, Birmingham, Sheffield and Leeds branches we spoke to said they were completely out of stock, and could not confirm when new supplies would be received.

While the Glasgow and Belfast branches both had some vaccine in stock, a backlog of patients meant the supplies were accounted for and no new patients would be able to receive them during a walk-in-appointment, they said.

All branches advised calling back next week, with the hope they may receive more stock mid-week.

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A Boots spokeswoman told Sky News that "a very high level of demand in the recent week" had meant that "some Boots stores temporarily ran out of stock for a limited time."

She said new flu vaccine stock was now available at the Boots warehouse for their pharmacies to re-stock.

Free flu jabs are available for children under nine, pensioners, pregnant women and people with certain long-term health conditions. For those who pay for their jab, the cost is about £13.

The high uptake of the flu jab this winter follows Australia's worst outbreak on record, with an epidemic in Europe feared later in the year.

The H3N2 strain, known as "Australian flu" or "Aussie flu," has been linked to a number of deaths in Ireland.

It has the same symptoms as common flu - including a high fever, exhaustion, a chesty cough and a sore throat.

A flu epidemic has also hit France, claiming at least 30 lives, and cases of the flu are widespread across America, affecting every state except Hawaii.

Earlier this year, 18-year-old Bethany Walker from Applecross, Scotland, died of pneumonia after suffering
from flu.

So far this winter, there have been 93 flu-related deaths in England, according to Public Health England.

Department statistics also show that over the last week there has been a 78% increase in people visiting the doctor with flu-like symptoms; a 50% increase in people taken into hospital with the flu and a 65% increase in intensive care flu admissions, compared to figures from the previous week.

The flu rate in Scotland for the first week of 2018 was four times higher than the same week in 2017.

Chief Medical Officer Sally Davies has advised NHS staff to make sure they are vaccinated against flu, warning: "Flu can kill and it is important we all take it seriously."

Across the NHS, 59% of staff have had the vaccine but in some trusts less than 3 in 10 staff are protected.

With January A&E waiting times the joint-worst on record, it is feared that many hospitals would struggle to cope with a flu epidemic should it hit in the midst of the NHS winter crisis.