Many patients who had hoped to get their annual flu jab on the NHS are now considering having the vaccination at a private clinic, after the government confirmed that this year's flu vaccine has been delayed.
Vulnerable people, including the elderly and those suffering from asthma, could otherwise have to wait until after the winter flu season has started before receiving their jab, as manufacturers have been unable to provide sufficient supplies on time.
Suppliers had difficulties in growing one of the flu strains used in the flu vaccine, although the Department of Health (DoH) insists that there should be enough doses to meet demand in the long-term.
Over 15.2 million doses have been ordered but the department has warned that GPs may have to share their vaccine stocks and will have to ensure that only those patients in high-risk groups are offered the vaccine during the autumn months.
Dr David Salisbury, director of immunisation at the DoH, told the Today programme that GP surgeries which were late placing their orders for vaccines would not be "at the front end of the queue" for deliveries.
"We want them to be sure that they are using their flu vaccine wisely so that people who have got clear risk factors are the ones they are bringing in according to a priority list we sent out earlier this year," he explained.
The British Medical Association chairman, Dr Hamish Meldrum, said that it would be "quite a challenge" for surgeries to immunise all at-risk patients before the winter flu season.
"For some it may be impossible and we will have to hope for a late onset of the annual flu outbreak," he revealed. "There certainly won't be spare supplies to provide jabs for those not in the at-risk groups."
Patients who are concerned about receiving their flu jab could seek to purchase a vaccination elsewhere.
A number of supermarkets have announced that nurses will be administering the vaccines at onsite pharmacies for around £15, while private clinics will also offer the flu jab.
© Adfero Ltd
Private treatment news : 02/10/2006