The Health Service Executive has rejected newspaper reports that hundreds of thousands of doses of the flu vaccine have gone missing.

The executive’s Chief Clinical Officer said 50,000 doses were held back to ensure they are delivered to those areas most in need.

Dr Colm Henry said there have been unprecedented levels of demand for the vaccine this year and 1.3 million doses have been distributed already – an increase of 20% from the same period last year and the most the HSE has ever distributed.

Speaking on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, he said the HSE normally holds back a certain amount of the vaccine to ascertain where the gaps and priority areas around the country are and where the vaccine needs to be delivered to.

In a letter on Monday, the HSE said the fifth and final cycle of deliveries would be paused until that could be ascertained.

It urged GPs and pharmacists to claim payment for the doses already administered in order to maximise the benefit of the remaining stock.

Dr Henry said the HSE has received records on the administration of over 700,000 vaccines, and it is normal for there to be a lag time between the distribution of the vaccine and records coming back.

‘No vaccines have disappeared,’ HSE Chief Clinical Officer Dr Colm Henry says following reports that hundreds of thousands of doses of the flu vaccine have gone missing | Read more: https://t.co/9XQPHKnu64 pic.twitter.com/52JrYV2wHg— RTÉ News (@rtenews) November 11, 2020

There are ‘unprecedented levels of demand’ in ‘at risk groups’ for the flu vaccine, HSE Chief Clinical Officer Dr Colm Henry tells RTÉ’s @morningireland | Read more: https://t.co/9XQPHKnu64 pic.twitter.com/pNyosWIW5B— RTÉ News (@rtenews) November 11, 2020

He also said it was too early to say it was a mistake not to deliver the children’s flu vaccine in schools and that the uptake so far is encouraging.