International flu vaccine shortages have caused delays in vaccination in Cork that could see distribution pushed back for weeks or months, according to a Cork GP.
Dr Mike Thompson said Ireland has ordered enough flu vaccines but shortages have resulted in deferred clinics and has seen vaccines rationed to ensure those at risk can access them. In recent weeks, Dr Thompson and colleagues established Ireland’s first drive-through vaccine clinic in Midleton to provide the flu vaccine to patients.
The clinic has the potential to vaccinate around 1,000 people over a weekend but has had to be limited to half of that due to the shortages. “We had to close the weekend halfway through because we ran out of stock but we have booked people further down the line,” Dr Thompson told The Echo.
“I think there will be enough stock. There were two million doses ordered but I think it will be delayed,” he said.
“It takes around 10 days for the vaccine to work and peak influenza season usually starts just after Christmas so we do have time.”
However, Dr Thompson warned that running large-scale vaccination programmes may become very difficult for GPs in winter.
“Traditionally, we try to get the vaccinations done before Halloween because general practice is just so busy after that. We are hoping there will be less flu this year because of the public health measures people are using such as social distancing, mask-wearing and hand hygiene. Typically, general practice is just putting out fires in November, December and January.
Despite the recent calls for everyone to get the flu vaccine, Dr Thompson said vaccines will have to be reserved for the large at-risk population until more are made available.
Those in the at-risk population include people aged 65 and over, aged two to 12, healthcare workers, people with chronic illnesses and their contacts.
“But I do think that if a healthy 20-year-old living on his own came to me for the vaccine, I couldn’t give it to him at the moment because I’d be depriving someone more vulnerable than him,” Dr Thompson said.
“We will have enough for the at-risk population. The HSE has done everything they can. It’s just an international shortage.”
Dr Thompson emphasised the importance of good communication between GPs and their patients to ensure there is no undue panic as people try to obtain vaccines.
“The last thing we need is people blocking GP surgery phonelines with vaccine queries, so communication is important.”