GP surgeries are running out of the seasonal flu vaccine after a surge in cases, with manufacturers warning they have no supplies left.
In one of the worst flu outbreaks in recent years, surgeries in Oxfordshire, Kent, Derbyshire, Hertfordshire and Gloucestershire have all reported vaccine shortages.
Dr Peter Holden, a GP in Matlock, said: "In Derbyshire – with just over one million people in total – we have 1,300 doses left.
"I suspect this is not a different story from elsewhere in the country. I have been talking to colleagues this afternoon and I think the bottom line is this: there's enough vaccine for pregnant women who need it, and that's it."
Another doctor said yesterday that her surgery in Dulwich, south London, had run out of doses as those who were eligible for the jab on the NHS finally came forward because of fears that the virus was spreading.
Dr Rosemary Leonard said her waiting list was "growing by the hour" and she called on supermarkets and pharmacies to hand over their stocks to the health service so that at-risk groups could benefit.
Margaret Hickmott-Stapely, the manager of The Westerham Practice in Westerham, Kent, said doctors were having to ration doses to the most vulnerable as supplies were running low.
She said: "We are having to prioritise who gets it as we have only got a very small supply remaining. I've tried three manufacturers and I've not been able to get any."
In some areas hit by the shortages, GP practices with surplus stocks have had to donate their supplies to those without until new batches arrive from wholesalers or elsewhere. Vaccine manufacturers warned last night that they had run out and could make no more.
All the flu vaccine has already been sent out and any GP surgeries that were short would have to call pharmacies, wholesalers and other practices to obtain more, a spokesman for the UK Vaccines Industry Group said. Last summer, there were 14.7 million doses of seasonal flu vaccine ordered, including private orders, but all of it has now been delivered.
The Department of Health admitted last night that some parts of the country were experiencing shortages and said it had asked manufacturers how many doses of vaccine they had stockpiled in Europe that could be used in Britain if necessary.
Manufacturers cannot make more vaccine to order in time for this winter because it takes six months to produce.
In any event, all of the manufacturing plants are currently working to fill orders for the coming winter in the southern hemisphere.
A spokesman for Sanofi Pasteur MSD, one of the manufacturers, said the company had only "a few thousand" of one particular type of vaccine left, called Intanza, which was only licensed for patients aged 60 or over. He said stocks of other types had run out.
"We are aware of some reports of supply issues in some areas," a Department of Health spokesman said. "We are working with the NHS at the local level to ensure available supplies of surplus vaccine are moved to where there is a need for them."
Dr Leonard, a prominent television medical expert, said the situation was getting worse as a surge in the number of cases prompted more of those in the at-risk groups to come forward for the jab.
The latest figures on the scale of the outbreak will not be released until later today but, by the end of last week, 39 people had died – mainly of the swine flu strain – and more than 700 were in critical care.
Before Christmas, cases rose faster than before the last epidemic in 1999-2000, which killed up to 25,000 mainly older people.
Children under five are the worst affected.
It is feared children going back to school this week and workers returning from the Christmas break will exacerbate the spread of the virus.
Dr Leonard said: "There is a problem now with the vaccine supply, in that GPs ordering their vaccines earlier in the year order enough generally for our at-risk groups. But at the beginning of December there was loads and loads of vaccine — now unfortunately there has been a rush. I spent the whole of yesterday afternoon trying to get more vaccine for our surgery. We have a list of 40 people waiting, and growing by the hour, of people who are in the at-risk groups.”
GPs should have ordered enough vaccine last summer for the people on their practice lists who are eligible for the jab on the NHS. These are people aged over 65, health care workers, carers, people aged under 65 with long-term illnesses such as heart disease or asthma and pregnant women.
Pharmacists and supermarkets are also offering the vaccines on a private basis to adults, while many companies order vaccines for their employees.
Dr Leonard added: “GPs are now in the situation where we have patients who ought to be getting it and we can’t get hold of supplies. So I would urge people: if they are worried well, not to have the vaccine, and please, the supermarkets, give it to the NHS chain.”
Dr Holden said the late decision to add pregnant women to this winter’s priority list — made in September — had not helped matters. “We would need an extra 100 vaccines out of the 1,800 we had ordered to cover them,” he said.
His surgery had run out of vaccine and a ring-round of five manufacturers had last night failed to yield results.
The Department of Health insisted last night that there was no evidence of widespread shortages. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/health/82423 ... cases.html