Half of all GP surgeries across Morecambe Bay are having to re-stock with flu jabs as demand has risen in response to fears over bird flu.

Public health specialist Carole Wood said she was not aware of any practices running out of flu vaccine but stocks were running low at some surgeries and half of them were having to get more.

Take up of the vaccine has been boosted by the avian flu scare even though the normal seasonal flu jab would offer no protection against the HN51 virus if it did mutate into a strain that could spread between people and not just birds.

The shortage means some patients in the high risk groups - those over 65 or with certain health conditions like asthma - are having to wait longer for their flu jabs.

It is unclear how long surgeries will have to wait to get fresh supplies from manufacturers.

However, Ms Wood said she was "confident" that all high risk patients would get their vaccine by Christmas.

The target uptake is to cover 70 per cent of people aged over 65. The Morecambe Bay Primary Care Trust has reached 60 per cent so far which is ahead of its position this time last year.

Nationally, the Department of Health announced on Tuesday that the 14 million vaccine doses ordered by GPs from manufactuers and held in a contingency pot by Government had all been used.

It suggested GPs either did not order enough vaccines or had been giving them to the "worried well".

The accusation angered local doctors who argued that they could not have factored in bird flu since they ordered their vaccines last year. In addition, GPs stated that they only gave vaccines to those in the high risk categories since they were the only people the health authority paid them to vaccinate.

Dr Geoffrey Moore, of Penny Bridge, near Ulverston, said the shortage was "completely a mess of the Government's making" after the chief medical officer had created a panic with his comments that 50,000 people could die in the UK in the event of a flu pandemic.

"We know what vaccines we require, we are capable of coping with a pandemic, what we are not capable of coping with are rash government pronouncements," said Dr Moore.

Meanwhile, Ulverston might just stand to benefit from a rush by global governments to stockpile anti-viral flu drugs in preparation for a flu pandemic.

GlaxoSmithKline's Ulverston plant is undertaking a feasibility study into restarting production in 2006 of the active ingredient for Relenza, a drug which reduces the symptoms of flu.

Some staff who had been lined up for voluntary redundancy may be kept on to help production. However, Relenza does not look set to reverse the long-term shrinkage of the Ulverston plant where nearly 500 people have been laid off since 2002.

Site personnel manager Steve Bowe said Relenza manufacture was envisaged as being a "temporary requirement" on a "small scale within one area of the factory".

In a further development, poultry farmers were being briefed this week on contingency plans should the HN51 virus arrive in Britain.

A national government roadshow appeared to have been hastily rolled out to give egg and poultry producers a chance to air questions over avian flu.

The first meeting was held yesterday (Thursday) at Penrith just two days after the event was announced to the media. For those that missed it, the only other northern session is at Askham Bryan College in York today (Friday). All six meetings across the UK are closed to the press.

lAnyone wanting to book a place must phone in advance on 01522-521290 or email lynne.holmes@adas.co.uk