Health tourist travels to Berwick for flu jab
A retired solicitor with a life-limiting disease has travelled to Berwick to receive an enhanced flu vaccine denied to hundreds of thousand of Scots pensioners on the NHS.
Iris McMillan said she was “absolutely furious” to learn the adjuvanted trivalent influenza vaccine (aTIV), which is designed to create a stronger immune response in patients, was not available via GPs in Scotland to those under the age of 75.
Elsewhere across the UK, the vaccine, which is proven to be more effective in protecting older people from three different strains of flu, is free to those aged 65 and over.
Ms McMillan said she believed she had no other means of getting the vaccine and criticised a “failure” to communicate the fact it can be obtained privately via pharmacies.
The 65-year-old, who has pulmonary hypertension and uses oxygen, said fears for her health over the winter prompted her to drive to Berwick where she paid for the enhanced vaccine at a Lloyds pharmacy. She said publicity for the seasonal flu vaccination programme made no mention of the fact under-75s could pay for the aTIV jab in Scotland.
Ms McMillan said: “When I found out the enhanced vaccine is only available to people aged 75 and over in Scotland, I was appalled. I was furious that people who have problems with their immune system aren’t having their health taken into account.
“The only consideration is a date on a calendar. That is not how you should run a health service.
“When I travelled down to England on Sunday and stayed overnight, I did so because I thought that was the only way to get the jab and to try and prevent problems with my respiratory system. I certainly wouldn’t have paid those hotel and diesel costs if I didn’t have to, but the message that is being given out to the public is that you have to be 75 or above in Scotland.”
A spokesman for the Scottish Government confirmed that provided they met the clinical need, Scots under the age of 75 could purchase the aTIV privately.
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However, posters and literature produced by NHS Education Scotland and Health Protection Scotland make no mention of the fact.
Aileen Bryson, the Royal Pharmaceutical Society’s interim director for Scotland, said: “In theory, if a pharmacy has stock of the vaccine and the patient meets what’s known as the patient group direction (PGD) criteria, they could provide it on a private service.
“Each service has its own criteria. Some might be working to the 65 age limit, others to the 75 age limit. But the services are trained to work within those criteria.”
Public health minister Joe Fitzpatrick told Holyrood last week NHS National Service Scotland ordered its vaccine before expert advisers recommended changing to a new strain, meaning under-75s would not be eligible for aTIV on the NHS.
The government spokesman added: “In line with expert clinical advice, the aTIV vaccine will be offered to people aged 75 and over this winter, as they have been identified of gaining the most benefit from the new vaccine.
“It will be rolled out to all those aged 65 and over from next winter.
“It is important to stress that the flu vaccine offered to those aged 65 to 74 this winter still provides flu protection.”