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Supply problem ‘pauses’ part of flu vaccine programme

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A pilot scheme to vaccinate older primary school children against influenza in England has been put on hold because of a supply issue.

The announcement, made by Public Health England yesterday evening, came as nurses and other health professionals were gearing up to begin this year’s flu vaccination programmes.

“Because some of the vaccine did not meet the strict licensing specifications, it will not be used”

Paul Cosford

It was sparked by vaccine manufacturer AstraZeneca revealing that some batches of the nasal spray due to be administered did not meet licensing specifications.

Eight to 11-year-olds at primary schools in six areas were set to be vaccinated using the spray as part of a pilot scheme to extend immunisation in England.

Around 150,000 children were to be offered the vaccine in Greater Manchester, Cumbria, Northumberland, Tyne and Wear, Essex, Leicestershire, Lincolnshire and London.

But Public Health England officials said they were “temporarily pausing” the programme.

“In recent days, AstraZeneca, the vaccine’s manufacturer, has informed us of a supply issue,” said PHE medical director Professor Paul Cosford.

“Because some of the vaccine did not meet the strict licensing specifications, it will not be used,” he said.

Professor Cosford said the plan was to use an alternative supply of the vaccine from the US, which would need to pass European tests first.

“Providing they meet the standards, these batches will be made available in the coming weeks,” he added.

“We’re pleased to say our contingency plans mean the vaccination programme is progressing”

AstraZeneca

He confirmed the glitch would not affect the vaccination of younger children, as there was enough stock for the existing programme for two- to four-year-olds and the new one for younger primary school children.

AstraZeneca said the school ordering system for children aged five to seven in primary school years 1 and 2 had opened on Wednesday across England “broadly in line with original plans”.

“All parties involved have worked closely so children in the UK can benefit from this important flu immunisation programme with minimal delay,” the company said in a statement.

“We’re pleased to say our contingency plans mean the vaccination programme is progressing,” it added.

In 2012 the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation recommended to ministers that the annual influenza vaccination programme should be extended to include all children aged two to under 17 years of age, sparking a phased roll-out.

Seasonal flu immunisation for healthy children began in 2013-14 with the vaccine offered to all children aged two and three years of age and pilot schemes set up for primary school children.

In 2014-15, it was also offered nationally for the first time to those aged four and further pilots were established for secondary school children in years 7 and 8.

This year the vaccine is due to be offered to all children aged two, three and four on 31 August and to all children in school years 1 and 2 – plus those in the pilot schemes for older children – according to PHE guidance for health professionals on the 2015-16 flu season.

According to latest figures published earlier this week, flu vaccine coverage for two-years-olds in England was 38.5% in 2014-15, for three-year-olds it was 41.3% and for four-years-olds it was 32.9%.

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