• Fresh batches of children’s flu vaccine now available following delays
  • RCGP says “it’s still early enough” for programme to have “maximum impact”
  • Delay follows problems with drug testing process and WHO decision-making 

Officials have restarted the distribution of a flu vaccine for one million children following “concerning delays”.

Public Health England told HSJ it had received fresh batches of the nasal spray vaccine from drug maker AstraZeneca and that stock was being distributed to primary schools and GP practices.

Every child aged between the ages of two and 11 is eligible for a free nasal spray for the first time this year as well as others in high risk groups.

Distribution of the vaccine had previously been delayed. This prompted senior clinicians, including the Royal College of GPs, to express concerns earlier this month about children being put at risk because they would not be inoculated in time.

The delay was caused by a combination of the World Health Organisation taking longer than expected to decide which flu strains should be included in the vaccine, and then further delays due to problems with AstraZeneca’s testing process.

RCGP chair Helen Stokes-Lampard told HSJ this week the fresh batches of the vaccine were now arriving at practices and that “it [was] still early enough in the flu season for them to have maximum impact if administered soon”.

She added: “While the delays had been frustrating for patients and GPs alike… The important thing is to make sure as many children as possible get vaccinated, so we would urge parents to arrange this for their child as soon as possible.”

The Royal College of Nursing’s professional lead for public health nursing Helen Donovan agreed with Dr Stokes-Lampard that there was still time to complete the process.

The pause had been a “challenge”, she told HSJ, but there was still time to get children and those in the various high risk groups vaccinated before the flu season, which usually starts to bite in late December or early January. 

A senior public health manager however told HSJ the delay meant logistical challenges going forward. Catching up on a mass vaccinations programme in the New Year was “not ideal at all”, the senior figure said.

Ms Donovan explained the complex process had a six-month lead time from when the WHO sets out which virus drug makers need to put into the vaccine.

She added: “I don’t think there is much either the manufacturers or [NHS] policy makers could have done differently. It’s a complicated process, and sometimes these things happen.”

PHE confirmed to HSJ the pause had been lifted. It said in a statement: “We have now received further vaccine from AstraZeneca, and the temporary pause in ordering vaccines for the schools programme has been lifted.

“The primary schools-based flu vaccination programme is once again underway. Children that have underlying medical conditions who have had clinics cancelled at school should still go to [a] GP to get their vaccine.”