Millions of vulnerable people are facing a terrifying winter as they struggle to get flu vaccines that could mean the difference between life and death.
A national shortage of the flu vaccine means stocks are running dangerously low and people are being advised it could take several weeks until they get a jab.
Professor Martin Marshall, head of the Royal College of GPs said, “This is a significant problem—it does seem to be a greater demand than there are supplies.
“The issue here is that we order our flu vaccines at least six months in advance. The orders were put in before the Covid-19 crisis was recognised.”
He told people in at-risk groups to “hold tight” and that they would receive the vaccine “hopefully before Christmas.”
Health secretary Matt Hancock promised that 30 million people would be able to get the flu vaccine for free this year. But like so many Tory promises, the reality is very different.
People over 65 years old, pregnant women and those with serious long-term illnesses are offered the flu vaccine for free, because they have a higher risk of complications from the virus.
A flu infection could easily land medically vulnerable people in hospital, placing them at further risk of contracting Covid-19.
Professor Pablo Murcia is a virologist and expert in influenza at Glasgow University and warned that an oncoming flu season could spell disaster.
“We have excess mortality due to flu every single winter so even before Sars-Co V-2 (Covid-19) we really have to take care of ourselves and get the vaccine, and now we have another pathogen that can cause mortality in certain patients.”
Hancock said the free vaccination programme would be expanded to include people between the ages of 50 and 64.
But as the medication is ordered six months in advance, it leaves up to a 15 million vaccine shortfall in the system.
The vaccine is usually administered at high street chemists or in GP surgeries. Many surgeries, and pharmacists—including Lloyds and Boots—are refusing to book flu vaccine appointments.
And Professor Jonathan Van-Tam said, “The vaccine is the best way to protect yourself from becoming ill with the flu, especially if you are in a vulnerable group.
“This winter with Covid-19 still circulating, there is an increased risk to life if you are ill with both viruses simultaneously, it is even more vital to get the free jab as soon as you can.”
The government’s chief medical officer Chris Witty, warned the “seasons are against us”, as the NHS prepares for an avalanche of flu and coronavirus cases.
It is possible that measures taken to stem the tide of Covid-19, such as hand washing and social distancing, will help to control the spread of flu.
But there’s no guarantee—and the failures to push forward an expedited programme of vaccination development and production show another way that the Tories are gambling with our lives.