Flu vaccine delivery delay due to lorry driver shortage a concern to GPs amid fears over levels of influenza

The issue is likely to affect ‘significant proportion’ of practices, and could have a ‘serious impact’ on practice workloads and patients

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While the lorry driver shortage and its impact on the stock of popular products like wine and beer is frustrating, it’s certainly not a matter of life or death.

But now, a delay to flu vaccine deliveries is “of concern” to GPs amid fears over high influenza levels.

Appointments for many patients have had to be rescheduled after Seqirus, the largest provider of flu vaccines to the UK, confirmed delays of up to two weeks in England and Wales.

The company blamed “unforeseen challenges linked with road freight delays” for the disruption.

Here is everything you need to know about it.

Why are experts concerned?

Professor Anthony Harnden, deputy chairman of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), told BBC Breakfast on Saturday (4 September): “Clearly influenza immunisation this year is really important and the reason it’s so important is because of lockdowns we’ve had very low circulating influenza levels last winter.

“So we do know when there are low circulating influenza levels the year before, often we get high infection rates in the following year so it’s quite possible that we’ll have a high instance of influenza this year.

“So it’s really important to get the influenza immunisation and really important to get it as soon as possible. It is of concern that there are delays, but hopefully this will be corrected soon and we’ll get on in general practices, we always do.”

Dr Richard Vautrey, British Medical Association GP committee chairman, said the issue is likely to affect a “significant proportion” of practices.

He warned of a “serious impact” on practice workloads and patients.

When are appointments being rescheduled?

Free flu vaccines will be available to more than 35 million people including all secondary school students this winter, according to the Government.

GP Online reported that it had been sent a letter advising practices not to rebook appointments until they receive confirmation of a new delivery date for vaccine supplies.

Shadow health secretary Jon Ashworth has said: “GPs are at their wits’ end, first forced to cancel blood tests because of bottle shortages and now we learn flu vaccines will be delayed.

“This has been a summer of crisis for the NHS with patients paying the price. With winter coming and flu resurgence a huge risk, ministers must urgently get a grip.”

Why is there a shortage of lorry drivers?

A Seqirus spokeswoman said: “Seqirus supplies influenza vaccines to all GP practices in England and Wales.

“Due to unforeseen challenges linked with road freight delays, we have informed all our customers of a consequent delay to their scheduled vaccine delivery by a maximum of one to two weeks.

“Seqirus is working hard to resolve the delay to allow customers to reschedule their influenza vaccination clinics.”

An apparent exodus of HGV drivers from EU countries, who returned to the continent during the coronavirus pandemic and remained there, has been blamed for disruption in sectors of the economy in recent weeks.

Shortages have been going on for some time, but now the heads of a number of sectors have warned that a shortage of drivers could lead to major supply chain issues for the foreseeable future.

The Road Haulage Association (RHA) has said there is a shortage of more than 100,000 drivers, from a pre-Covid total of 600,000, primarily because of changes to migration rules as a result of Brexit.

Because the UK is no longer part of the single market, in which HGV drivers can move across borders more freely, many European drivers have opted to work solely within EU countries.

The increased bureaucracy involved in travelling to and from the UK often means increased costs to drivers who are paid for distance, rather than time.

And changes to the UK’s tax regime post-Brexit can also mean working in the UK is less attractive for many HGV drivers.

The pandemic has also impacted the number of HGV drivers in the UK, with many European drivers who were still in the UK heading home because of travel restrictions.

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