The overwhelming demand for the flu vaccine has been seen as the biggest cause for its shortage in New Zealand. Despite 530,000 doses of the vaccine being distributed last month, there are some medical practices where the supply is woefully inadequate to meet the demand. This has resulted in the Ministry of Health bringing in shipments of 95,000 more doses.
The Ministry of Health has said that between 20 to 30 thousand New Zealanders were getting flu shots each day. The Ministry of Health manager of immunization, David Wansbrough said, “Demand is much higher than we expected. We're distributing them as fast as our supply is coming in. We're watching this pretty closely because we don't have a lot in our warehouse.”
The flu vaccine takes a long time to develop and has a relatively short shelf life. Also it must be stored during transportation between 2 and 8°C. Plus there are customs and quarantine checks which include checking for any temperature breaches while the flu vaccine supplies are being shipped.
As a serious temperature breach can render the flu vaccine useless the transportation and storage requirements are quite stringent. This means that the vaccine cannot be distributed at a very fast pace. This is another factor which is adding to the current shortage of the flu vaccine.
"We have been getting shipments every week from the companies and as long as they keep those shipments up we should be okay. The schedule's not regular - they're coming whenever they can. We have had some delays in deliveries to some practices so there is some level of frustration around the place “said David Wansbrough.
The Ministry of Health had been informed by the primary supplier of the country’s flu vaccine, Sanofi-aventis just before Christmas that there would be a delay in the vaccine supplies. So about 450,000 additional doses had been ordered from other companies like CSL and Solvay by the staff at the ministry.
Thankfully the level of influenza is unusually low for this time of the year and so despite not getting immunized the health of the general population is on the whole unaffected.