Fluenz Tetra, a nasal spray influenza vaccine, is used in the UK to protect children in the UK from the seasonal virus. This flu season marks the first time all children aged two to 10 are eligible to receive the vaccine.
However, there are now doubts about whether everyone eligible to receive the vaccine will be able to get it before the flu season gets underway.
The concern stems from the need to repeat some routine tests on the vaccines before they are shipped for use in the UK. The extra testing at AstraZeneca is unrelated to the safety and efficacy of the product, according to UK authorities.
Given the potential shortfall in supply, UK health authorities have asked doctors to prioritize children with underlying health conditions and preschoolers.
Health officials in Scotland expect to receive supplies of the vaccine, via UK-wide procurement body Public Health England (PHE), next month. PHE has warned that school-age children without underlying health conditions may need to wait until later in November to get vaccinated.
In August, PHE said it expected to start accepting Fluenz Tetra orders from schools in early October and from doctors in the middle of the month – putting Fluenz Tetra orders around a month behind those of Sanofi’s quadrivalent vaccine, which is used in older patients.
The shipment delay means the UK’s newly expanded vaccination program will make a stuttering start, potentially denting hopes of hitting its immunization targets. Authorities aim to vaccinate 50% of kids aged two to three years old and at least 65% of primary school aged children.
In the 2018 to 2019 flu season, 44.9% of children aged two and three years old received the flu vaccine, an increase of almost one percentage point over the previous period.
The vaccination rate in school-age children was 60.8%. Uptake was highest among the youngest kids in that cohort and fell away to 56.5% among the oldest, who were covered by the vaccination scheme for the first time last year. A government report said the expansion of the program “presented new challenges.”
While this year schools and doctors may struggle to access Fluenz Tetra early in the flu season, they typically buy more than they need. Last flu season, around 10% – 350,000 doses – of ordered flu vaccines went unused. However, the rate of unused vaccines has come down from 20% in the 2015 to 2016 flu season.