HSE to avoid UK land transport to deliver flu jab for 'virulent' strain
The HSE will no longer use the UK as a land bridge for deliveries of flu vaccine and other life-saving jabs from October 31 when a hard Brexit may be in place, it was confirmed yesterday.
Ireland and the UK may be hit by a virulent form of flu which struck Australia during its winter, leading to a high number of hospitalisations and deaths.
Doctors in the UK have now expressed fears that a no-deal Brexit will affect this year's supply for their patients.
President of the UK's Royal College of Physicians Andrew Goddard said : "I can't sit here and say, 'Don't worry, no deal will be fine, no one is going to come to any harm, no one is going to run out of medicines'."
Asked what preparations it has put in place here, a spokeswoman for the HSE said it is expected that supplies of the flu vaccine will be in Ireland prior to October 31.
However, she said that routes for all vaccine deliveries will not include using the UK as a land bridge after that date.
Shortages often hit vaccines more than other medicines.
The manufacture of flu vaccines is already behind schedule this year because the World Health Organisation (WHO) delayed in deciding which strain to include in the jab.
The WHO typically makes its recommendations about which strains of flu to protect against in February.
But this year this was put back to allow it to adjust to mutations in the key strains in circulation.
The H3N2 strain has proved dominant in Australia during its winter, which coincides with our summer.
Reports from Australia said it saw three times as many deaths as in the whole season last year, with around eight times as many laboratory confirmed cases as normal.
The HSE will launch its annual flu vaccine campaign as normal in October.
Dr Padraig McGarry, president of the Irish Medical Organisation, urged at-risk groups to get the vaccine when it becomes available, saying it is the best protection against a potentially killer virus.
He said he was reassured that health officials had made contingency plans to ensure supplies of the vaccine or other medicines will not be interrupted if there is an EU crash-out by the UK.
The Health Products Regulatory Authority (HPRA), which is the country's medicines watchdog, said it has been engaged in extensive Brexit planning with stakeholders across the health sector.
"This is to ensure, to the fullest extent possible, that the necessary preparations to address the impacts of the UK's departure from the EU are completed," it said.
"With regard to the supply of medicines, companies have been requested to take the necessary steps to ensure sufficient stock levels and continuity of supply both in the period leading up to October 31 and post Brexit.
"This includes consideration of stocks at wholesale level and ensuring that arrangements are in place to allow for timely replenishment of such stocks, including customs requirements where applicable, and allowing for potential delays during transportation."
A spokesman said: "We are in ongoing contact with companies across the pharmaceutical industry to once again highlight particular regulatory and supply matters linked to Brexit."
It said it wants to obtain additional assurances in respect of contingency planning, and to identify potential issues on availability of specific products associated with Brexit.
It has been "ongoing for some time and will continue for the foreseeable future".
The Irish Pharmacuetical Healthcare Association (IPHA), representing branded drugs companies, said it had made "complex logistical and supply chain arrangements, including in some cases rerouting transport away from the UK. "
The key supply chain challenges are likely to be related to medicines with a short shelf life, refrigerated supply chains, compounded products and time-critical logistics.