Independent pharmacies aree having to pause their flu service as stocks fail to keep up with increased demand. 

Sachin Patel, managing director at Lincoln Pharmacy in Tower Hamlets, told The Pharmacist today (15 November) that his pharmacy ran out of flu vaccines in October due to unexpected demand — just one month after the flu service was launched.  

‘We saw such a huge demand from patients this year who just could not seem to get their vaccine anywhere,’ he said. 

This comes as the Government hopes to vaccinate over 35 million people across the UK this winter, after an increase in the number of eligible groups.  

Pharmacies across the country have reported an unprecedented increase in demand for the vaccine.  

Mr Patel said he had sourced an additional 100 vaccines while he waited for his second flu vaccine delivery from Seqirus on 22 November.  

However, he said that the additional supply is ‘unlikely' to last more than a week, meaning he will be forced to suspend the service.  

‘As we’re also a Covid vaccine centre, we get lots of people coming in getting their boosters who would also like a flu jab which we just sadly cannot provide them as we don’t have enough, it is a missed opportunity to vaccinate more of the population.’ 

Alastair Buxton, PSNC director of NHS Services, said: ‘While many contractors are reporting they still have stock available, the high demand has meant some have run out of vaccine. 

‘Community pharmacies are having a bumper flu vaccination season with more than 3.8 million vaccinations already administered and demand far surpassing all previous seasons.’ 

He added: ‘The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) has advised that the flu vaccine manufacturers still have stock available which can be ordered by wholesalers for onward sale to pharmacies.’ 

However, Mr Patel told The Pharmacist he has found it ‘impossible’ to get hold of the DHSC’s additional flu stock.  

‘We were meant to have access last week, but every day when I call up the wholesalers I get told that there is none available to order.’  

Similarly, Pete Horrocks, superintendent pharmacist of the 90-branch Knights Pharmacy group, told The Pharmacist today that he was pausing 50% of the flu services in his pharmacies for under 65s while he waits for second deliveries — also due on 22 November.  

‘We were initially expecting our flu vaccine delivery from Seqirus to be split into two, which would have meant we had a consistent flow of vaccines readily available. However, Seqirus changed our order so that we had varying amounts of vaccines arriving on three different dates throughout the winter,’ he said.  

The combination of high demand among over 50s and having 15% of their flu vaccines supplied 7 weeks late has ‘reduced our ability to vaccinate as many as possible so far,’ he explained. 

‘But we are still hoping we can call eligible patients back in the pharmacy once we get the balance of our order.’   

A spokesperson from Seqirus told Tthe Pharmacist: ‘Each year, we take vaccine orders from GP practices and pharmacies who are our customers, as early as autumn for the next year’s flu season. These orders are taken on a first-come, first-served basis. We then deliver our customer orders directly. After an initial delayed start to supply, our deliveries were phased to allow for equitable distribution amongst our GP and pharmacy customers. 

‘Over the next two weeks, we will fulfil all of our final orders for at-risk populations including the newly eligible cohort of people aged from 50 to 64. In addition, DHSC has made available influenza vaccines through a central stock once again this season. Pharmacies are reminded to contact their wholesaler if they wish to access additional supply.’  

Both Lloyds Pharmacy and Boots have told The Pharmacist they are not currently experiencing flu vaccine shortages.  

In September, Seqirus said there was a delay of up to two weeks on flu vaccine deliveries, as a result of ‘various logistical issues’.  

It comes after a survey found that around one-third of adults in England are currently unaware that pharmacies offer flu vaccinations.  

The DHSC have been approached for comment.