The National Influenza Vaccination Campaign is normally launched at the end of September each year. The advice of the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland is that the ideal time for vaccination is September/October but the vaccine can be administered at any stage throughout the winter months.
Irish supplies of influenza vaccine are purchased each year by the Eastern Regional Health Authority on behalf of all health boards. As is normal the ERHA placed an order this year for the supply of 530,000 doses for delivery in September and October 2004. This was despite a worldwide shortage of influenza vaccine this year. The normal demand over the ‘flu season is for approximately 500,000 doses. To date, 200,000 doses of flu vaccine has been distributed around the country.
At a routine meeting on 8th September to arrange delivery details the ERHA were assured by the supplier, Chiron, that all deliveries would take place on schedule, however, the following evening (Sept 9th) the Irish Medicine’s Board (IMB) were alerted to potential problems with Fluvirin supply by the UK Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA). The Department of Health and Children (DoHC) was informed of this the following morning (Sept 10th)
The alert passed on by the IMB was to the effect that Chiron Vaccines had delayed deliveries of its Fluvirin influenza vaccine manufactured in the UK while it completes an internal investigation following sterility problems with the product. The MHRA will study the report of this investigation once complete. Availability of the vaccine will depend on retesting being satisfactory and the root cause being identified and corrected. The MHRA is the Licensing Authority for pharmaceuticals in the UK.
The Irish Medicines Board is liaising closely with the MHRA in this context.
As some 330,000 doses of the Fluvirin vaccine had been ordered for Ireland, the Department of Health and Children immediately authorised the ERHA to source alternative supplies. 200,000 doses of vaccine have now been ordered from another company, and will be available in October.
70% of the required vaccines have now been sourced and the Department and the ERHA are continuing to work to secure the remainder required. In the meantime, the Department is asking Health Boards to advise GP’s to concentrate their efforts on ensuring that patients at greatest risk receive the vaccine first.