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Friday, September 17, 1999 Published at 18:39 GMT 19:39 UK


Doctors condemn 'scandalous' vaccine shortage

Vaccines for babies are in short supply

Doctors have warned that the government must take immediate action to stem a "scandalous" shortage of vaccines for potentially fatal illnesses such as meningitis, TB and diptheria.

BBC Health Correspondent Fergus Walsh: "There is a serious shortfall"
The British Medical Association warned that GPs are being forced to turn patients away because they have run out of vaccines.

GPs have been told it could be up to a month before they get new supplies due to production problems.

The BMA's GP Committee unanimously backed a motion condemning an "appalling" situation which has led to:

  • A shortage of the BCG vaccine at a time when tuberculosis is becoming more common
  • A shortfall of at least 40,000 doses of the meningitis C vaccine needed to meet the government's pledge that all first-year university students will be immunised
  • A shortage of combined vaccines for childhood immunisation programmes against diphtheria, tetanus and whooping cough.

[ image: Dr John Chisholm said the situation was farcical]
Dr John Chisholm said the situation was farcical
The Department of Health denied there was a shortage of the meningitis vaccine and blamed the problem with other jabs on manufacturers

Officials accused GPs of being irresponsible, and of trying to create a panic when they know the government has taken action.

But Dr John Chisholm, chair of the GPC said: "Were it not so serious this would be farcical.

"At the same time as the Health Department is sending people to the doctor for immunisation, they are failing to ensure that GPs have the vaccines needed to do the job."

An 'absolute disgrace'

[ image: Dr Leonard Peter has had to turn patients away]
Dr Leonard Peter has had to turn patients away
Harrow GP Dr Leonard Peter said he had just one dose of the meningitis vaccine left and ran out of diphtheria tetanus vaccinations on Thursday - with no idea of when new batches would be delivered.

He said: "This is an absolute scandal and a complete disgrace - I have not seen anything like this in 21 years as a GP.

"As a matter of good practice we call up parents to remind them to come and get the diphtheria vaccine for children starting school.

John Chisholm, BMA: We do not want to see the return of diptheria and other illnesses
"But when we looked in the fridge we realised we hardly had any vaccines left. The manufacturers cannot give me any idea of when new supplies might arrive."

"I am having to tell parents who are coming to the surgery that I have no vaccines to give them."

Commenting on the shortage of the meningitis vaccine, Dr David Salisbury, Department of Health principal medical officer, said: "We have been shipping out very large quantities of the vaccine since late August and those quantities have been going up by the day over the last few days, and will continue to do so over this week and next week."

Dr David Salisbury, head of Government's immunisation programme: Unacceptable for public health to be put at risk
He said that by the end of this week there would be enough vaccine distributed for about 90% of first-year students who are getting ready to attend university.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Health said: "The Secretary of State called in the manufacturers of the diphtheria tetanus vaccine at the end of July and told them the situation with shortages was unacceptable.

"They agreed to implement plans to rectify that shortage and those plans are being implemented now."

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