United Kingdom authorities have run out of flu vaccines and have resorted to distributing last year’s pandemic swine flu ones to GP surgeries. After severe criticism for lack of preparation and response to last month’s snowstorms, authorities are having to face yet again questions about their preparedness for the flu season.

There appears to be a problem between the location of flu vaccination stocks and where people who need them live. There is a review underway on purchasing procedures by GP practices. Currently, GPs buy directly from manufacturers. Some say they should be purchased centrally to avoid shortages.

Health authorities are urging all GP practices who have surpluses to pass whatever they can on to those that do not have enough. Manufacturers are being asked to bring extra doses in from continental Europe.

British media are today wondering why these contingencies had not been thoroughly discussed earlier.

So far, 50 people have died from flu since November – 11 over the last week alone, there are 850 flu patients in intensive care. In order to free up beds for flu patients, hundreds of surgical procedures throughout the country have had to be cancelled.

Of the 50 confirmed deaths, 45 had swine flu and five had another strain.

13 people with swine flu have died so far this season in Northern Ireland, the Public Health Agency has confirmed. Nine of them had underlying health conditions and ranged from 7 to 67 years of age. Northern Ireland has over 200 confirmed cases of swine flu.

People with flu-like symptoms are being urged to stay at home.

A government immunization expert has announced that GP practices can order vaccination supplies over the internet.

Some high-risk patients have had to be turned away from their doctors’ offices because they had run out.

Professor John Watson, head of the respiratory diseases department at the HPA (Health Protection Agency), said:

“Our latest flu report suggests levels of people seeing their doctor for flu-like illness is peaking. We cannot say at present whether this is the peak as the figures are potentially skewed by the holiday period. We will have a better idea of the likely trend in the next couple of weeks.

However flu is still circulating and we would urge those people in an at-risk group to have their seasonal flu vaccine as soon as possible as this is the best way to protect themselves from flu this winter.

Although there were reports of many people during the pandemic only experiencing mild disease we can’t stress enough that flu can be an extremely serious illness for people in ‘at risk’ groups, including pregnant women, the elderly and those with other underlying conditions such as heart problems, diabetes, lung, liver or renal diseases and those who have weakened immune systems.

Most people with flu can ‘self care’ by taking plenty of rest, drinking lots of fluids and taking over the counter pain relievers such as paracetamol. But anyone displaying severe symptoms, particularly those in vulnerable groups should contact their GP or local out-of-hours service for medical advice.

It is important that people do all they can to reduce the spread of the virus and they can do this by maintaining good cough and hand hygiene, such as covering your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough and sneeze, disposing of the tissue as soon as possible and cleaning your hands as soon you can. These are all important actions that can help prevent the spread of germs and reduce the risk of flu transmission.”

The Health Protection Agency announced that according to its latest figures, seasonal flu appears to be starting to peak in England, Wales and Scotland. However, figures may have been impacted by the holiday period, when people go to the doctor less.

In a communiqué, the HPA wrote:

“Influenza A H1N1 (2009) ‘swine’ flu and Influenza B remain the predominant strains circulating although sporadic cases of H3N2 have also been seen. A small proportion of flu cases are resulting in severe disease, particularly in people under the age of 65.”

Written by Christian Nordqvist