The UK’s largest pharmacy chain, Boots, has suspended flu vaccination bookings for anyone aged under 65 years, despite ordering 20% more vaccinations than normal.
And the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC) has reported that some community pharmacies have used up all their flu vaccination stock.
A spokesperson for Boots confirmed to The Pharmaceutical Journal on 22 September 2020 that it had paused new bookings for people aged under 65 years, for both NHS and private services. The spokesperson added that bookings for the over-65 age group could still be made.
“We have seen more people than ever booking early to get their flu vaccinations,” the spokesperson said. ”We have been closely monitoring our stock levels, and made the decision this weekend to pause taking new bookings for our private and NHS under-65s flu vaccination services. This is to make sure we can vaccinate the patients who have already booked their appointments with us.
“We are still able to continue supporting the NHS over-65s flu vaccination service due to stock availability of the trivalent vaccination, which the NHS recommends for people aged 65 and over.”
Boots had increased its usual order of flu vaccine by 20%, but said that demand this season had been unprecedented.
A spokesperson for the PSNC said that contractors are reporting a “massive increase in demand” compared with the same time last year — which, they said, the sector had expected based on the experience of pharmacies in Australia and New Zealand.
“The delivery schedules and increased demand for vaccines means some pharmacies report they are temporarily out of stock of some vaccines ahead of their next scheduled delivery and, in some cases, all of their stock has already been administered to patients”, the spokesperson added.
Other large pharmacy chains said they were monitoring the flu vaccine situation, with a spokesperson for Lloyds Pharmacy saying that it had experienced “unprecedented demand” for flu vaccines this year.
“In the first week of flu season we have already vaccinated ten times more people compared to last year. We are reassuring customers that there are enough vaccines available for those who have booked appointments,” the spokesperson said.
“There has been a small number of isolated incidents where appointments have been rescheduled by the local pharmacy team, and when and where this occurs, customers will be called or emailed directly.
“This is a constantly evolving situation, and we are monitoring appointment levels closely and releasing new spaces as soon as they become available throughout the flu season”.
A spokesperson for Well Pharmacy said the company was still offering both NHS and private flu vaccinations, but was “keeping a watching brief on stock levels and any NHS guidance on service provision”. The spokesperson added that Well had seen a “surge in demand, though we expected this and we secured more vaccines than we ever had before.”
A spokesperson for Rowlands said the company was not restricting or suspending its service, and would “continue to vaccinate all eligible patients as long as we have supplies”.
This season’s flu vaccination programme has been described as the most comprehensive in the UK’s history. At-risk groups in England have been extended to include households of people on the shielded patient list, and the government said that those aged between 50 and 64 years would be invited for a free vaccine “later in the season”. In Wales the same age group will be “vaccinated in a phased approach”, and in Scotland, people aged over 55 years are eligible for the free vaccine, with the possibility of extending this to include those aged between 50 and 54 years “if vaccine supplies allow”.