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Flu vaccine chaos simply inexcusable

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'Most people will be astounded to learn that Northern Ireland won't have enough flu vaccine to innoculate its target population sectors as winter approaches.' (David Cheskin/PA)

'Most people will be astounded to learn that Northern Ireland won't have enough flu vaccine to innoculate its target population sectors as winter approaches.' (David Cheskin/PA)

'Most people will be astounded to learn that Northern Ireland won't have enough flu vaccine to innoculate its target population sectors as winter approaches.' (David Cheskin/PA)

Most people will be astounded to learn that Northern Ireland won't have enough flu vaccine to innoculate its target population sectors as winter approaches. Health officials said that they were extending the vaccination programme to include those in the 50-64 age bracket because of the threat of a flu epidemic at the same time as the Covid-19 pandemic would pose a huge risk to public health.

But now it appears that was an empty promise. The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) in England has significantly increased its procurement of flu vaccine to ensure its 50-64 population can get the jab this winter. As a result there is no additional vaccine available for Northern Ireland health authorities to purchase.

This has echoes of the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic in the province when there wasn't enough PPE to go around, leaving frontline NHS staff fearful that they would be treating patients without sufficient safety equipment and staff in care homes were left practically defenceless as the pandemic gathered pace.

While the lack of planning at that stage was criticised the health authorities had some excuses. This was a pandemic which came out of the east and no one globally really knew how to tackle it or to defend populations against its ravages.

But there can be no excuse for not buying up enough flu vaccine. There are annual vaccination programmes for those aged over 65 or others with underlying problems making them more vulnerable to that virus.

The health authorities know to the last person how many doses of vaccine are required to implement their plans. How could they possibly get their sums so wrong. Was it merely a case that they were so leaden footed in putting in their orders that they found others had got there first?

Whatever the reason it is inexcusable. There are fears of a perfect viral storm with flu, which can be a killer in its own right, occurring as a surge in Covid-19 grips the province.

While the Executive and, in particular the Health Minister, are right to encourage people to follow scientific advice which could curb the current surge in Covid-19 cases, they must understand that a significant proportion of the population is being denied a vaccination which could improve their chances of surviving the winter without becoming seriously ill.

The lessons of the initial stages of the Covid-19 pandemic have not been learned and the health authorities must up their game.

Belfast Telegraph