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Health chiefs deny flu jab shortage as MLA voices fears

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Concerns: Rosemary Barton

Concerns: Rosemary Barton

Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph

Concerns: Rosemary Barton

Health officials have again denied there is a shortage of flu jabs for the over-65s after fresh concerns were raised by an MLA.

Rosemary Barton said she is seeking "urgent clarification" from the Department of Health on why a number of patients in her Fermanagh and South Tyrone constituency have "repeatedly been turned away" for flu vaccines.

The Public Health Agency, however, has repeated assurances that the final batch of 90,000 Fluad doses will arrive at the start of this month.

This follows comments made by the Chief Medical Officer Dr Michael McBride in the Belfast Telegraph that everyone eligible for the new flu jab will receive it before the end of November.

It was being delivered in three batches, he explained, due to "manufacturing constraints" in its production.

Yet Mrs Barton said she is concerned that vulnerable patients are being potentially put at risk.

The UUP MLA said she has been contacted by several people who had been asked to return to their GPs at the end of October only to be informed that it will be "two weeks before any vaccines are available".

"There were already major concerns over the future of GP services in the Dungannon area and these delays in receiving the flu jab are now only making the situation even worse," she said.

"For some people the winter flu is nothing more than a mild irritation, yet for some others - such as those aged over 65 or with underlying health conditions such as asthma - it can really be severe and quite dangerous."

Mrs Barton said she has written to the head of the health department for further information on the issue.

When the Belfast Telegraph contacted the PHA for a response yesterday, a spokesperson referred us to a previous statement issued last week by health officials which revealed that nearly 140,000 doses have been allocated locally so far during this year's delayed flu programme.

Admitting that, based on initial feedback, there has been a "high demand" for the flu jab, it outlined that GPs have been allocated a proportion of each batch of the vaccine based on their practice size with patients aged 75 and over given priority.

The PHA statement stressed that while they "fully understand the concerns" of affected patients who may have to "wait slightly longer than they normally would to be vaccinated", the staggered approach should ensure those aged over 65 to 74 receive the most effective flu jab.

"It is important to emphasise that those eligible to receive the flu vaccine will still be vaccinated in advance of when the flu season normally starts to reach a peak, which traditionally is around late December/early January to mid-to-late February," they added. "Supplies of the other flu vaccines, which are used for children and those aged under 65 years of age in an 'at risk' group, are not affected and therefore these programmes are proceeding as normal.

"We would encourage them to attend for their vaccination according to the arrangements at their respective GP surgery."

Each year in Northern Ireland more than 500,000 people are vaccinated against influenza, with the "vast majority" of vaccinations occurring between "October to mid-December", according to health officials.

"We would continue to urge those aged 65 years or over to make sure they get protected against the influenza this winter by ensuring they are vaccinated, when invited to do so by their GP," the PHA said.

◊Have you had problems getting a flu jab? Email newseditor@belfasttelegraph.co.uk

Belfast Telegraph