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UK rations AZ’s paediatric flu vaccine after delivery delays

Supplies may be limited as flu season begins

vaccine

Delays in the release of some batches of AstraZeneca’s paediatric flu vaccine – Fluenz Tetra – means supplies may be limited as the 2019-2020 flu season gets underway.

The delay means available stocks of the live, attenuated influenza vaccine (LAIV) will have to be reserved for vulnerable children with underlying medical conditions such as asthma, heart problems or cystic fibrosis for the time being.

AZ says the delays have been caused by routine testing on some of its Fluenz Tetra production batches that will have to be repeated, and it doesn’t think the efficacy or safety of the vaccine is at risk.

It’s hoping to deliver the affected batches in November, but any further delay could threaten Public Health England’s plan to make the nasal spray vaccine available for free to all primary school children for the first time this year.

The vaccine is procured by PHE and then transported to all areas of the UK for administration to children aged between two and ten.

The new policy has added another 600,000 children to the 25 million people eligible for free flu vaccines in England as part of a strategy to 'help keep people well and ease pressure on urgent care services over the colder months', according to PHE.

The decision to extend the programme to primary school-age children stems from a desire to provide individual protection to the children themselves, and to reduce transmission across all age groups.

Both Scotland and Wales have also announced plans to prioritise children with eligible health conditions, as well as the two to-five-year-old programme, in response to the delay.

Scotland’s deputy chief medical officer Dr Gregor Smith said: “The school vaccination programme is currently continuing as normal. However, should there be the expected disruption to supply, it could lead to vaccinations in some primary schools being rescheduled.”

The chief medical officer for Wales – Dr Frank Atherton – stressed there is “sufficient stock currently available to ensure primary care can commence the vaccination of children aged two and three and those in clinical risk groups under the age of 18”.

A report in the Guardian suggests however that the supply issues have forced GP practices and primary schools in England to cancel immunisations, including for some children with medical conditions that elevate their risk.

In a statement, AZ said: “Due to the delay in strain recommendation and subsequent manufacture of new strains for the 2019-20 season, deliveries of the vaccine will be spread across the season, as opposed to being concentrated in the initial months of the season.”

The company insists that it is “manufacturing and delivering the full quantity of vaccine required for the UK childhood influenza vaccination programme”.

In August, NHS leaders warned that a no-deal Brexit would make delays in the flu vaccine supply this year more likely, and there has been a rush for all producers of the vaccines to make sure sufficient supplies are in stock before 31 October, the current deadline for the UK’s departure from the EU.

Article by
Phil Taylor

23rd October 2019

From: Healthcare

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