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Pharmacists told to diversify vax stocks as excess flu deaths hit five-year peak

Pharmacists have been reminded to order their flu jab stocks from more than one manufacturer to prevent supply issues amid the highest recorded excess deaths from influenza in five years.

The UK suffered 14,500 excess deaths associated with influenza infections in 2022/23 – the highest figure in five years, the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) revealed in last week’s (June 22) annual flu report.

The UKHSA said that the flu season began earlier than usual and saw increased hospitalisations – although it said that some of this may have been due to increased NHS testing compared to previous years.

Read more: Well Pharmacy launches private flu jab bookings early at £17.99

The news comes as the government has repeated its recommendation that pharmacies and other NHS contractors should buy their flu vaccine stock from more than one manufacturer "to mitigate against the risk of supply issues".

It came as part of a written parliamentary response from June 22, Lord Markham, parliamentary under-secretary for health and social care, who also said that vaccine deliveries will be “phased through the season” to reduce the risk of wastage, cold chain failure, and to cover shifting demand for jabs.


Dominant strain was “more severe” in elderly


The UKHSA attributed the severity of the last flu season to the dominant strain, influenza A(H3N2), which it said is “more severe in older age groups”. The health agency also said that evidence suggests social distancing measures during the COVID-19 pandemic led to “reduced flu circulation”, leading to people being “more susceptible” to influenza infection than usual.

Nevertheless, the UKHSA described last flu season’s vaccines as “well matched” to influenza A(H3N2). Its analysis found that vaccinations greatly reduced the risk of severe disease.

People aged over 65 reduced their risk of hospitalisation by flu by a quarter if they were vaccinated, while other adults saw their risk reduced by a third, and children by two-thirds.

Read more: Government scraps free flu jabs for 50-64-year-olds in 2023/24 season

The UKHSA said that, on average, there were “around 13,000” annual excess deaths associated with flu in the five to 10 years before the pandemic. The 2022 excess flu death toll marks the highest figure since the 2017/2018 season, when 22,500 people died. 


Well Pharmacy opens up flu jab bookings


Earlier this month (June 2), C+D reported that Well Pharmacy had opened its flu vaccination service to bookings “earlier than usual” for the service launching later this year, and Rowlands confirmed to C+D that it would launch its flu vaccination service from September 1.

The annual flu letter was published on May 25, and announced that people aged 50-64 will not be eligible for a free flu jab in the 2023/24 season.

The UKHSA will develop patient group directions (PGDs) and a national protocol that will become available before the programme launches, the letter said.

Read more: Flu wars: Which pharmacy chain is offering the cheapest jabs?

And in January, the government announced that a record number of people over 65 had received flu vaccinations, with 81.4% receiving a flu vaccination that season, according to UKHSA figures.

The most recent flu season saw multiple offering flu vaccines at a low cost in a price war.

On January 9, Well Pharmacy announced that it would offer its private flu jab free of charge to all patients aged over 18 during a peak in hospital admissions.

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