The Irish Medical Organisation (IMO) has contacted its members over "frustrations" with seasonal flu vaccine delays saying two-thirds of the overall supply required should arrive with a pending shipment, with the rest by the end of October.
In a letter last Friday, the IMO explained that influenza vaccine arrives in a number of shipments, but the initial ones have been delayed, and have brought reduced quantities.
“The HSE is working with the manufacturer to minimise any disruption,” it said.
It is also expected that the ordering process for a nasal spray vaccine for children will start at the beginning of next month.
However, due to initial shortages in the regular vaccine, the Irish College of General Practitioners (ICGP) has warned that plans for dedicated flu vaccine clinics will be delayed until sufficient quantities are made available.
The prompt roll out of the vaccine is of particular concern this year due to the coronavirus and its potential to seriously impact hospital capacity.
Medical sources believe it will also help rule out regular flu strains in those who have symptoms of Covid-19. There are also concerns about the health effects of having both coronavirus and regular flu simultaneously.
The IMO told its members that following discussions with HSE primary care and the National Immunisation Office, “frustratingly there are reduced quantities available for initial orders”.
“However, based on current information, on the delivery of their second order each GP should have received two-thirds of the amount of vaccine each site ordered for the entire 2019-20 season.”
GPs and other distributors can access an online calendar to track delivery dates. The first batches of the vaccine are being prioritised for those most at risk.
Fortnightly deliveries are made during the flu season and the vaccine is currently available to order.
However, while it had been hoped that the level of delivery could have been escalated this year in light of the public health circumstances, they have so far remained in line with 2019.
“Based on current information, on the delivery of their second order each GP should have received two thirds of the amount of vaccine each site ordered for the entire the 2019-20 season,” the IMO said.
"Current schedules for flu vaccine shipments indicate that total supplies will have been delivered into Ireland by the end of October."
Dr Nuala O’Connor, clinical lead on Covid-19 for ICGP said that, according to the HSE, by the end of this week all GPs will have received a small initial quantity of the vaccine.
“Our members had hoped to start vaccinating people as quickly as possible, and plans for dedicated flu vaccine clinics will need to be delayed until we have sufficient flu vaccine in our surgeries,” she said.
“Our understanding is that this is a temporary issue and will be resolved.”
On Tuesday, the HSE's chief clinical officer Dr Colm Henry acknowledged delays in the arrival of the vaccine, but said further batches were due to arrive soon with sufficient quantities for the population.
Dr Colman O'Loughlin, president of the Intensive Care Society of Ireland, said the southern hemisphere, often used as an indicator of what is coming in the north in any given year, has had a "very mild" flu season.
Speaking on RTÉ radio, he said "that doesn't always translate to the same situation up here in the northern hemisphere, but it does often follow on."
He said social distancing and other measures, coupled with the flu vaccine, “hopefully will see an ability to control flu so there won’t be such a negative impact on the system as there can be”.