/By Bridget Osborne

Winter is coming but Chiswick pharmacies may be ill-equipped to handle the flu season. Four out of five pharmacies called by The Chiswick Calendar told us they did not have enough flu vaccine to offer new appointments to under 65s. Boots, on Chiswick High Rd was the only one offering new appointments but they were fully booked until the end of the month. The first appointment available was Tuesday 30 November.

Demand for the flu vaccine has surged as the Government is urging everyone, young and old, to get themselves vaccinated against flu this year. As the NHS rolled out its biggest flu vaccination programme ever last month, Health Secretary Sajid Javid said:

“Alongside the Covid-19 booster jabs, we are rolling out the biggest flu programme in our history, with a record 35 million people in England eligible for a free flu jab to keep them safe this winter.

“It’s vital that all those who are eligible come forward for both their flu and Covid-19 booster vaccines, to give themselves and their loved ones the best possible protection in the months ahead.”

According to the NHS, flu vaccination is especially important this winter. More people are likely to get flu due to minimal social contact in the past 12 months, so fewer people will have built up natural immunity to it during the COVID-19 pandemic.

While many have heeded the Government’s advice, pharmacies have found they are unable to keep up. They told The Chiswick Calendar vaccine supply was scarce and they were unsure when their next delivery would be.

The flu vaccine is given free on the NHS to people who are 50 and over (including those who will be 50 by 31 March 2022), to pregnant women, those with certain health conditions and those in long stay residential care.

It’s also provided free of charge to frontline health care workers, people who receive a carer’s allowance, or are the main carer for an older or disabled person who may be at risk if they get sick and those who live with someone who is more likely to get infections (such as someone who has HIV, has had a transplant or is having certain treatments for cancer, lupus or rheumatoid arthritis).

The cost applies for everyone else and ranges between £8 and £14.99. Anyone over the age of 16 is supposed to be able to book an appointment with a pharmacy providing vaccinations.

Busby’s chemist, Grove Park

The Chiswick Calendar’s editor tried to get a flu jab at Busby’s pharmacy in Grove Park and was told:

“I’ll add you to the list. We don’t have any vaccine in stock at the moment and we’re not sure when we’ll get any”.

When I rang round Chiswick’s other chemist shops, here’s what they said:

Campbell’s Chemist, Chiswick High Rd

Campbell’s are a family run pharmacy serving Chiswick and the surrounding communities since 1997. They usually offer flu jabs, but according to the manager Mel they ran out last week.

“We don’t have any stock at the moment and I don’t think I could give you a due date for when they’re back”.

Mel said it could be days or even weeks until they get a restock, since the supplier is also out of stock.

Boots, Chiswick High Road

The pharmacy desk at Boots said there were no shortages and all flu-jab appointments will be met, but the next available appointment when I tried to book on Monday was Tuesday 30 November.

In September Boots reported the highest ever demand for its winter flu jab service. Bookings have increased by two-thirds (67%) compared to 2020, with over one-third of appointments at Boots at the time already reserved for pre-booked private and NHS patients. Marc Donovan, chief pharmacist at Boots UKis advising patients book their flu appointment as soon as possible if they can. He said:

“With low prevalence over the past months possibly leading to a drop in flu immunity among the population, vaccinating against flu is even more important than in previous years.

“You can help to protect yourself and your loved ones from flu by booking a vaccination appointment as early as possible. Although we are seeing high demand at Boots, two-thirds of appointments for our winter flu jab service are still available”.

Churchill’s Pharmacy, Chiswick High Rd

Churchill’s Pharmacy has the flu vaccine in stock but is only making it available to people over 65. Vaccinations are usually administered in the pharmacy between 4.30pm and 5.30pm.

Despite the shortage this week, the manager said they should be getting a restock of vaccinations soon and they hoped to offer vaccinations to people under 65 next week.

Sabel pharmacy, Chiswick High Rd

Sabel pharmacy are a family-run business. Rachael, one of the managers, is a pharmacist with over 20 years’ experience who runs flu, travel and other vaccination clinics. She told me flu vaccines were not available unless they had been pre-booked, due to the high demand.

“We’re expecting some more in in about a week. We haven’t technically run out, but we’ve only got enough for the people who’ve booked in already.”

“We have to order a year in advance, and when you order they split the amount you can have and the next ones are due in about week. It’s hard to get vaccines that you haven’t pre-ordered.”

Usually the supplier will deliver all of the vaccines required for the season, but Rachel said this year they have staggered the supply, so they have had to manage appointments more, despite the Government drive for us all to “do our bit”.

GPs managing demand

A ring round some of the doctors’ surgeries revealed the following:

Grove Park Terrace Surgery said they have had no shortages with the flu vaccine and stock levels are“all fine.”

Grove Park Surgery said patients would be notified by the NHS when they were eligible and would then be invited in surgery for the jab – there was sufficient supply for these pre-booked appointments.

Chiswick Family Practice said they have run out but they should get a delivery soon “hopefully” and are only serving over 65s at the moment. They had enough for patients who had pre-booked appointments.

You can find more information about flu vaccinations in England on the NHS website: nhs.uk

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