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The UK flu vaccine shortage—who is at fault?

BMJ 2005; 331 doi: (Published 08 December 2005) Cite this as: BMJ 2005;331:1413
  1. John Watkins (, senior lecturer in epidemiology
  1. Wales College of Medicine, Cardiff University, Cardiff

    It is a very British thing to do: when people complain, someone must be at fault. Recently the health secretary, Patricia Hewitt, suggested that general practitioners might have been giving flu vaccine to the “worried well” rather than to those patients who are most at risk and thus recommended for vaccination, resulting in a shortage. The suggestion led GPs' leaders to defend their profession and to blame the shortage on heightened public awareness of avian flu and the threat of a human pandemic, increasing public demand for the vaccine, which has outstripped supply. The debate has now moved on to the issue of whether GPs and the government ordered enough vaccine from the suppliers to ensure that all those recommended for vaccination received it (, as well as the issue of some vital doses being not only given to the worried well but also siphoned off by private companies as perks for their employees.

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