The UK is facing a shortage in influenza vaccines this winter, as take-up of the jabs accelerates on fears of a flu pandemic.

The Department of Health has issued an advisory asking GPs to reserve remaining stocks of the vaccine for high-risk patients, such as those aged over 65, after running short of a contingency supply of around 400,000 doses.

The vaccine against the circulating strain of flu would do little to protect against an emerging pandemic strain, but this has not stopped people asking for the shots. The UK public has already received most of the 14.5 million doses of vaccine, plus the reserve supply. An additional 200,000 doses have been ordered but are not likely to be delivered until January.

Davis Salisbury, the head of the DH’s department of immunization, told the BBC it appeared that either doctors had not ordered enough vaccine from the manufacturers, or supplies had been diverted elsewhere. General practitioners have now been told not to order directly from the manufacturers and to use what vaccine they have on stock carefully.

It is not known whether production problems at a plant operated by Chiron in Marburg in Germany, which supplies the Begrivac brand of flu vaccine to the UK market, have contributed to a shortfall.

The British Medical Association refuted suggestions that doctors had not laid down enough supplies or had prescribed the vaccine to inappropriate patients.