KeepHealthCare.ORG – WA health authorities slap restrictions on flu shots because of vaccine shortage
FLU vaccine shortages have hit WA, sparking a scramble for shots ahead of the season ramping up, as GPs turn away patients including babies and toddlers.
WA Health authorities have finally conceded to short supplies and have slapped restrictions on GP and pharmacy orders for publicly funded vaccines until more stocks arrive.
But with some extra supplies being sought from overseas to meet what authorities say is “unprecedented demand”, it could take up to six or seven weeks for vaccines to arrive in WA.
This will force people to wait for protection from the potentially fatal disease until as late as mid-July when the flu season is already in full swing.
The Department of Health said shortages were affecting supplies of private market vaccines as well as free vaccines funded through the National Immunisation Program.
Last year’s deadly season, in which there were 1100 flu-associated deaths nationwide, triggered a massive push by Federal and State governments whose increased vaccination forecasts have fallen well short of demand.
Camera IconChildren, including babies, have been turned away from getting flu shots because of the shortage.Picture: Getty Images
Federal Department of Health information showed WA’s forecast for NIP-funded vaccines was short by about 31,000, while some States were short by more than 100,000.
The Sunday Times has been told that GPs in social media forums were “freaking out” over shortages, concerned they couldn’t get stock “until further notice” or just getting a fraction of their orders.
A mother with a six-month-old son said her northern suburbs GP had to turn her away because they had no vaccines left.
Other mums have resorted to begging their GPs for scant vaccines while some patients have been told to “shop around” or wait for supplies to arrive.
In an email to immunisation providers this week, DOH said: “WA is currently limiting NIP influenza vaccine ordering quantities to ensure equitable distribution of supplies.
“The Department of Health expects there will be enough vaccines available to ensure those eligible for the NIP vaccine can be vaccinated before peak influenza transmission in August/September.
Camera IconDoctors are reportedly “freaking out” over the shortage.Picture: Getty Images
“However, there may be ordering restrictions for short periods while waiting for additional vaccine supplies to arrive in WA.”
The email also told doctors and chemists that patients aged 65 or older should be given quadrivalent vaccines if the preferred trivalent vaccines were not available. Two trivalent vaccines were specially designed for the elderly and were meant to be more effective.
A DOH spokesman said extra supplies for the private market would be sufficient “so that no one should miss out on vaccine”.
There was no indication of timing of these extra supplies.
DOH’s concession over supply problems comes just a week after the department said it was confident WA would avoid shortages that already had led other States to ration supplies.
Telethon Kids Institute infectious diseases specialist Dr Chris Blyth called for “patience from the community” over supply problems as current flu cases were low and there was “still time”.
“People at greatest risk including young children, the elderly and those with medical conditions need to be prioritised,” he said.
GP on Beaufort practice manager Janet Leighton said many clinics were frustrated by the lack of supplies. “It beggars belief that there is a vaccine to stop the worst of it but we can’t get it,” Mrs Leighton said.
Australian Medical Association WA president Dr Omar Khorshid slammed the WA Government for having its “head in the sand” by refusing to acknowledge supply issues sooner.
He said allowing pharmacies to distribute NIP vaccines for the elderly had “diluted” WA’s supply.
Pharmacy Guild WA executive director Matthew Tweedie said many pharmacies had not yet experienced shortage issues for the NIP-funded trivalent vaccines for the elderly, as well as the private market vaccines for over 18s.
Royal Australian College of GPs’ WA vice chairman Dr Sean Stevens said this year’s regime of giving flu shots later in the year was advisable to ensure people had protection during the season’s peak months, but it had also put significant pressure on immunisation providers.
The latest DOH data this week shows there were 6107 confirmed influenza cases in WA in 2017, of which 23 per cent (1397) required hospital treatment. Last year was the first time most cases were in September. DOH figures showed flu notifications for the past five years started to increase in June.