The hepatitis B vaccine may be restricted until early next year due to a shortage, it has been announced.
An alert issued on Monday (7 August) by the NHS Central Alerting System warned of a global shortage of hepatitis B vaccine. The alert says supply is critical during August, but is likely to be restricted until early next year.
Public Health England (PHE) has released recommendations for healthcare professionals – including pharmacists – to help preserve remaining stock until then.
It said supply for infant vaccination has been protected, to ensure that infants born to infected mothers can be vaccinated without delay.
The supply constraints also do not affect the vaccine used in the routine childhood immunisation programme.
For pharmacists, the advice is only to order essential stock and avoid stockpiling.
PHE said stock should be used responsibly and alternatives, such as combined hepatitis A and B vaccines and multi-dose packs, should be considered where possible.
PHE advised that hepatitis B vaccination is recommended for all healthcare workers who may have contact with patient blood.
It advised doctors to prioritise the vaccine for patients at high risk, including people who share needles, healthcare workers exposed to blood and patients on dialysis.
Assessing urgent need
PHE and the Department of Health are also collaborating with vaccine manufacturers to establish ordering restrictions based on the priority of the users.
This means providers may have limits applied to their orders and some may even be unable to order stock. However, PHE say exceptional orders will be allowed if risk assessment suggests there is an urgent need.
The hepatitis B virus affects the liver to cause infections that can last for years, and may result in cirrhosis and liver cancer. However, due to vaccination, rates of chronic infection in Europe are less than 1%.
NICE currently recommends vaccination for all patients at increased risk of hepatitis B infection, including drug users, prisoners and people born in high prevalence areas such as Africa, Asia, the Caribbean and the Middle East.
You can view the alert in full here.