Pharmacies across the UK are running out of the flu vaccine, as fears of a national epidemic continue to grow.

Sky News contacted six branches of Boots across the UK – in London, Birmingham, Sheffield, Leeds, Glasgow and Belfast – but none were able to provide flu jabs this weekend.

A number of deaths in Ireland have been linked to 'Australian flu'. File pic
A number of deaths in Ireland have been linked to ‘Australian flu’

The London, Birmingham, Sheffield and Leeds branches we spoke to said they were completely out of stock, and could not confirm when new supplies would be received.

While the Glasgow and Belfast branches both had some vaccine in stock, a backlog of patients meant the supplies were accounted for and no new patients would be able to receive them during a walk-in-appointment, they said.

All branches advised calling back next week, with the hope they may receive more stock mid-week.

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Free flu jabs are available for children under nine, pensioners, pregnant women and people with certain long-term health conditions. For those who pay for their jab, the cost is about £13.

The high uptake of the flu jab this winter follows Australia’s worst outbreak on record, with an epidemic in Europe feared later in the year.

The H3N2 strain, known as “Australian flu” or “Aussie flu,” has been linked to a number of deaths in Ireland.

It has the same symptoms as common flu – including a high fever, exhaustion, a chesty cough and a sore throat.

A flu epidemic has also hit France, claiming at least 30 lives, and cases of the flu are widespread across America, affecting every state except Hawaii.

Earlier this year, 18-year-old Bethany Walker from Applecross, Scotland, died of pneumonia after suffering
from flu.

A scientist working on the winter flu vaccine
The high uptake of the flu jab this year follows Australia’s worst outbreak on record

So far this winter, there have been 93 flu-related deaths in England, according to Public Health England.

Department of Health statistics show that 114 people were admitted into intensive care last week – an 86% increase on the previous week.

Figures from this time last year show 78 people were admitted to intensive care with flu, while just 35 were admitted in the same week in 2015/16.

The flu rate in Scotland for the first week of 2018 was four times higher than the same week in 2017.

Chief Medical Officer Sally Davies has advised NHS staff to make sure they are vaccinated against flu, warning: “Flu can kill and it is important we all take it seriously.”

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Across the NHS, 59% of staff have had the vaccine but in some trusts less than 3 in 10 staff are protected.

With January A&E waiting times the joint-worst on record, it is feared that many hospitals would struggle to cope with a flu epidemic should it hit in the midst of the NHS winter crisis.