More than half a million people in Scotland will not benefit from the ‘most effective’ flu vaccine for their patient group this year, a doctors’ representative body has warned.

In a letter sent to Scottish chief medical officer Dr Catherine Calderwood last week (26 September), Scottish British Medical Association (BMA) Dr Lewis Morrison said that people aged 65-74 will not have access to the adjuvanted trivalent flu vaccine (aTIV) this winter due to the ‘Government’s failure to secure a new, more effective vaccine’.

While Government advisers the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) approved the use of the aTIV (also known as Fluad) in the over-65s in England, the vaccine was only made available to the over-75s in Scotland – with people aged 65-74 receiving other type of vaccine, a BMA spokesperson told The Pharmacist.

The Pharmacist contacted Scotland’s Department of Health for comment.

Vulnerable adults

Dr Morrison wrote: ‘The situation we are left with will mean a large group of some of the most vulnerable adults will not have access to the most effective vaccine available to them this winter.’

According to the Government’s data watchdog the National Records of Scotland (NRS), there are 560,000 people aged between 65 and 74 in Scotland.

Speaking before the Scottish Parliament last week (25 September), public health minister Joe FitzPatrick said that late procurement arrangements for this year’s seasonal flu vaccination programme had resulted in the exclusion of the under-75s.

He said: ‘Every year, NHS National Services Scotland undertakes seasonal flu vaccine procurement on behalf of NHS Scotland. To ensure that it can acquire the volume of flu vaccines that is required for each season, it begins procurement in early autumn for the next flu season.

‘That meant that the procurement exercise for this year’s flu season had already concluded when the JCVI made its recommendations.’

Mr FitzPatrick said that as the sole aTIV vaccine supplier had to ‘significantly ramp up its production for the whole of the UK very quickly, 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’.

The Pharmacist approached the supplier, Seqirus, for comment. 

Not ‘as effective as ‘hoped’

Dr Morrison argued that last year’s flu jab was not as ‘effective as we had hoped’, with ‘a large number of fragile older people admitted with chest problems and secondary bacterial infections’.

He continued: ‘Therefore, aside from the immediate risks of flu and its medical complications – and of course the primary concern has to be patients – there are also major demands placed on both health and social care services associated with the physical decline that goes along with flu-related illness in the frail elderly, at a time of already limited resources.’