Pharmacists and GP surgeries are having to limit flu jabs to the most at-risk groups due to increased demand.
The Boots chain has suspended its appointment booking system for anyone outside of the vulnerable groups, which include people aged over 65.
It said it faces “unprecedented demand” for vaccinations, but NHS England says enough stocks are available.
Within the next few weeks it is likely that winter flu will start to circulate alongside the coronavirus.
This will potentially present an additional challenge to an already stretched healthcare system.
This year in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, for the first time the flu vaccine will be offered to the over-50s – over-55s in Scotland.
But this will only be after it has been given to those who normally get a free NHS jab – including the over-65s, pregnant women, and people with conditions like lung disease or diabetes.
In a statement, Boots said: “This year, our customers have been more conscious than ever about protecting the health of themselves and their families, and protecting against flu has been front-of-mind for many of us.
“As a result, we have seen more people than ever booking early to get their flu vaccinations.”
Pressure on stocks
The Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) says other independent pharmacies have also had to slow down the rate of vaccination.
Robbie Turner, RPS Director of Pharmacy, said: “This year many more people are anticipating receiving a flu vaccination and they need assurance that sufficient stocks are available.
“We will continue to talk with government on the supply of vaccines, and how pharmacists can support those who are most at risk.”
Professor Martin Marshall, Chair of the Royal College of GPs, said widespread flu vaccination would play a key role in preventing the NHS being overwhelmed this winter.
He said: “For the expanded programme to be effective, the government must ensure that there is an adequate supply of vaccines for everyone who wants one in the wider group of patients who are now eligible.
“The RCGP has called for assurances from government that there will be enough supplies to go around – and for guidance for GPs as to who, outside of those patients most at risk, should be prioritised for a flu jab, should supply be limited and for clear public messaging about this in order to manage patients’ expectations.”
Supplying the vaccine – which needs to be refrigerated – is a logistical challenge. But NHS England says there are adequate stocks in place.
The Department of Health and Social Care says it will issue guidance shortly on how pharmacists and GPs can access additional stockpiles if needed.
It is unclear how bad flu might be this winter – some years are worse than others – but experts say the vaccine is a good match for the strain of flu that will be circulating.
Flu, like coronavirus, is a viral infection that is passed on through coughs and sneezes. Social distancing, masks and handwashing should help reduce the spread of both.
Most people with flu recover at home in a week, but people with chronic conditions or who are over 65 should call NHS 111.
If you think you have either flu or Covid-19, stay at home and self-isolate.
Book a coronavirus test if you have:
- a high fever
- a new. continuous cough
- a loss of, or a change to, your sense of smell or taste