The Government is considering deadline for influenza vaccinations for high-risk people because some private providers had stockpiled doses.
When GPs first reported shortages, it was found 500,000 doses hadn't been used and were likely sitting on shelves in fridges.
The stockpilers intending to sell the vaccines to the private sector have now been ordered to redistribute it so people at risk of serious illness can be vaccinated.
Doses can now only be ordered 60 at a time.
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Almost 1.8 million flu vaccines have been ordered for this year and almost 900,000 vaccines have already been distributed.
They were meant to be used for priority patients - those over 65, with certain pre-existing conditions, pregnant women and frontline healthcare workers.
But many GPs quickly ran out and couldn't get any more.
Director General of Health Ashley Bloomfield said today when the first reports of a shortage came in, they knew 500,000 hadn't been used.
When a vaccine is administered, it's registered with the Immunisation Advisory Centre.
"We're playing an active role in ensuring they're redistributed around the country," he said.
In an email from the Ministry of Health to vaccine providers seen by the Herald, it said the issue with supply was stockpiling.
"It has been brought to our attention that a number of wholesalers, travel and occupational health providers have ordered a large quantity of influenza vaccinations ahead of the vaccine becoming available for use in the private market.
"Because of this stockpiling, some providers are having difficulty vaccinating those at risk of serious illness."
The Ministry asked all providers holding the stock and intending to sell it to the private market to redistribute it to the public sector where it could be used for priority people.
"Occupational health and travel health providers should only have vaccine stocks for that is intended to be used for patients eligible to receive a funded influenza vaccination or health or other frontline workers."
Bloomfield told reporters today there was "daily work" happening to address the distribution issues.
Medical director at the Royal New Zealand College of General Practitioners, Bryan Betty, said the maldistribution issue has meant practices with many high-risk patients have run out.
He wants the Government to extend the deadline for vaccinating priority people until the end of the month.
Why GPs have run out of flu vaccines
Betty said it was very difficult to redistribute vaccines already in fridges because of cold chain logistics.
If not done perfectly, they expire which deems them useless.
"But what that meant was a lot of GPs who were prioritising high-risk patients couldn't get any more because the vaccine had run out because it had all been distributed," Betty said.
The Ministry of Health last week brought in a limit of 60 vaccines per order to try control where the vaccines go.
"It's never been a problem up until this year because of the demand on vaccines."
Pharmac orders the vaccines, then the Ministry of Health distributes it via Healthcare Logistics which it contracts.
The normal distribution procedure is first in, first served, said Betty.
Usually that worked well but this year because of the demand, it didn't.
Betty has a clinic in Porirua which has about 1,500 high-risk patients but has only been able to vaccinate 500.
They ran out today.
"We're high Māori, Pacific - we're the exact area that needs to have vaccination and we've run out now so we've ground to a halt."
The limit of 60 per day would make the vaccination programme as would require a lot more admin work, he said.
"But if that's the way to get vaccines distributed equitably across the country, then that's fine. We need to live with that."
A spokesperson for the Ministry of Health said a shipment of 100,000 doses has just arrived and a further 200,000 doses arrive this weekend
Deadline for priority people extended?
It's understood the Government is considering extending the deadline for vaccinating priority people until the end of April to resolve the distribution issues.
Normally, vaccinations usually start on April 1 but it was brought forward to March 16 this year to get a jump on vaccinating high-risk people to reduce the workload on the healthcare sector.
This was meant to happen by mid-April but has been extended so the general public won't have access to vaccines if they want it until the end of the month.
The Ministry of Health spokesperson said they were working to ensure the remaining stock and upcoming deliveries were "distributed equitably" so vaccinations could continue with as little disruption as possible.
"In particular, we want to ensure that Māori and Pacific peoples have access to influenza vaccine, as Māori and Pacific immunisation rates have historically been significantly lower than those of the wider population, and the impact of previous pandemics has fallen disproportionately on them."
Do we have enough flu vaccines?
Asked whether he thought the 1.768 million would be enough, Betty said: "No."
The demand had been huge this year with many people choosing to vaccinate this year as a precaution who hadn't opted to before.
"In defence to the system, no one was to know that Covid would happen when they were ordered."
But when Bloomfield was asked if it would be enough, he said: "Yes, it definitely is."
Even after all the priority people are vaccinated, "there will still be plenty of vaccines available for other New Zealanders who want to get it," Bloomfield said.
A Ministry of Health spokesperson said in recent years, the Government's target for influenza vaccine distribution has been 1.2 million doses over the entire season.
"We would normally reach 1 million doses by early May and 1.2 million doses by July or August.
"Demand has increased in recent years, and last year, 1.35 million doses were distributed by the end of the season."
Director for operations at Pharmac, Lisa Williams, said they had "been engaging with suppliers to see if more stock can be made available to New Zealand, but at the moment this seems unlikely."