Pharmacies put flu vaccinations on hold as stocks run out in unprecedented demand

Many pharmacies across Scotland have stopped offering private flu vaccinations as unprecedented demand wiped out stock.

It comes as the provision of NHS flu vaccinations this winter was labelled a “recipe for disaster” following reports of delays, unexpected closures and lack of information around appointments.

Labour Health spokesperson Monica Lennon called on the Scottish Government to take urgent action to prevent “chaos” during the winter.

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Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie previously raised the issue in the Scottish Parliament, and on Sunday called for MSPs to be able to scrutinise the government strategy for distributing Covid-19 vaccines when they are made available, given the “disorderly” flu operation.

Hundreds of people queued for a flu vaccine at Holyrood RC High School in Edinburgh on Saturday.
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Stock shortages

Boots, which offers flu vaccines at around 120 pharmacies in Scotland, has stopped all private bookings both in store and online, with customers asked to register to be told when the service is back up and running.

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Lloyds Pharmacy also urged people to register their interest in advance, but said that appointments are continuing.

Several branches of Lindsay & Gilmour pharmacies have also been forced to suspend vaccination services, with management citing stock shortages and asking people to join waiting lists.

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In many cases customers were told it may be the beginning of November before stocks are replenished.

Frustrated Scots have taken to social media to report cancelled private appointments or having called several local pharmacies only to be told by all of them that no vaccinations are available.

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“I’ve not been able to find anywhere that has any [vaccines] available, I can't get to the drive-in centre as I don't want to use a taxi, and I really don't want to wait in a wet West Princes Street Gardens for the walk-in clinic,” said Edinburgh resident Jennifer Longstaff.

“I tried two pharmacies in North Edinburgh, they said they'd only been issued a limited amount, which they'd ran out of and to try my luck mid November, when the walk in clinics are meant to go ahead.

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“They said not to bother trying other pharmacies as they're all in same boat and no one has been issued more than the other.

“If I get the flu I'll have a chronic fibromyalgia/asthma flare for a month, and I can't afford to be out of action that as a single parent.”

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Unprecedented demand

A spokesperson for Lloyds Pharmacy said: We have seen unprecedented demand for flu vaccines this year and have already administered a far greater number of vaccines compared to this time last year in order to meet this demand.

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“Appointments are being managed at a local level in response to the supply and demand, however over the past couple of weeks we have been and releasing appointments to customers both over and under 65 who have previously registered their interest on LloydsPharmacy.com. We would encourage customers who have not yet registered their interest to do so now, as appointments are becoming available.

“This is a constantly evolving situation and will naturally vary dependent on local demand across the country but, we would like to assure our patients of all ages, who have registered their information with us that appointments are becoming available.”

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"Recipe for disaster”

Monica Lennon, Labour Health Spokesperson, said many constituents had been in touch with her about vaccine availability.

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“Constituents are telling me they are finding it harder this year to get information and appointments for their flu vaccinations,” she said.

“Older people in particular have been hit hard by the pandemic, and now it appears they’re being put to the back of the queue when it comes to flu vaccination too.

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“This is a recipe for disaster and the Health Secretary and Minister for Older People must get a grip. I have written to them to seek reassurances on behalf of older people across Scotland, who are worried about Covid-19 and flu.

“NHS Lanarkshire raised the alarm on flu preparedness months ago, and this should have been a wake-up call to Ministers.

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“The Scottish Government must take urgent action to protect lives and prevent chaos in our NHS this winter.”

Previous reports revealed delays of several hours and people being turned away from drive-through NHS flu vaccination centres in Edinburgh.

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A spokesperson for the Edinburgh Health and Social Care Partnership said all sites in the city are now running smoothly.

“All sites have been working well, delivering a safe and easy patient experience, and feedback has been overwhelmingly positive so far,” they said.

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“A few of the sites have experienced teething problems on the first day of the new clinic but our dedicated health teams have quickly adjusted and waiting times have been much shorter on subsequent days.”

"Disorderly operation”

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Willie Rennie said the “disorderly” nature of the flu jab operation in Fife, the Highlands, the Borders, Edinburgh and elsewhere should be a “warning” in advance of a Covid-19 vaccine.

A spokesperson said the Scottish Government has procured enough vaccines to administer them to all 2.4 million people who are eligible.

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“We are aware of the unprecedented volume of calls received by Health Boards and we are working with them to ensure all calls are being actioned and those eligible for the flu vaccine will receive an appointment as suitable to their circumstances as possible,” they said.

"Everyone eligible for a free flu vaccination will receive an appointment from 1 October onwards.”

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They added that the Scottish Government is ready to deploy a Covid-19 vaccine as soon as one is available.

“Our Flu Vaccination and Covid-19 Vaccine programme board is considering how the Covid-19 vaccine will be deployed, including logistics such as who will deliver the vaccination and how it will be stored,” they said.

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“The Joint Committee on Vaccinations and Immunisations are continuing to provide expert advice to Ministers to help inform decision making on how the vaccine supply will be deployed in Scotland.”

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