Mil­lions of swine flu vac­cine doses to ex­pire, be burned

Austin American-Statesman - - WORLD & NATION - By Mike Sto­bbe

AT­LANTA — About a quar­ter of the swine flu vac­cine pro­duced for the U.S. pub­lic has ex­pired — mean­ing that a whop­ping 40 mil­lion doses worth about $260 mil­lion are be­ing writ­ten off as trash.

“It’s a lot, by his­tor­i­cal stan­dards,” said Jerry Weir, who over­sees vac­cine re­search and re­view for the U.S. Food and Drug Ad­min­is­tra­tion.

The out­dated vac­cine will be in­cin­er­ated. The amount, as much as four times the usual leftover sea­sonal flu vac­cine, prob­a­bly sets a record. And that’s not even all of it.

About 30 mil­lion more doses will ex­pire later and may go un­used, ac­cord­ing to a govern­ment es­ti­mate. If all that vac­cine ex­pires, more than 43 per­cent of the U.S. pub­lic sup­ply will have gone to waste.

Fed­eral of­fi­cials de­fended the huge pur­chase as a nec­es­sary risk in the face of a never-be­fore-seen virus. Many health ex­perts had feared the new flu could be the deadly global epi­demic they had long warned about, but in­stead it ended up killing fewer peo­ple than sea­sonal flu.

“Al­though there were many doses of vac­cine that went un­used, it was much more ap­pro­pri­ate to have been pre­pared for the worst case sce­nario than to have had too few doses,” said Bill Hall, spokesman for U.S. Depart­ment of Health and Hu­man Ser­vices.

Most lead­ing health ex­perts gen­er­ally agree with that.

“We were faced with the first pan­demic we’d had in 40 years. We had to en­sure there would be enough vac­cine for our nation,” Dr. Mark Mul­li­gan, an Emory Uni­ver­sity re­searcher, said.

Many av­er­age Amer­i­cans also agreed ear­lier this year, said Robert Blen­don, a Har­vard Uni­ver­sity pro­fes­sor who con­ducts polls on pub­lic health. He said a Har­vard poll in Jan­uary found that 59 per­cent of Amer­i­cans would pre­fer the flu vac­cine be overordered to en­sure enough was avail­able, even if it meant doses went un­used.

Mil­lions of doses of flu vac­cine typ­i­cally go un­used ev­ery year and are marked for burn­ing, but in re­cent years the left­overs amounted to closer to 10 per­cent of the sup­ply, rather than the 25 per­cent ex­pir­ing now. Govern­ment flu ex­perts couldn’t re­call throw­ing away any­thing close to 40 mil­lion doses be­fore.

Govern­ment of­fi­cials have known for months that they were look­ing at a huge sur­plus. Ac­cord­ing to an As­so­ci­ated Press cal­cu­la­tion based on fed­eral pur­chas­ing in­for­ma­tion, the dol­lar value of the 40 mil­lion ex­pired doses is about $261 mil­lion. The govern­ment didn’t re­lease an of­fi­cial fig­ure, but Hall said the AP es­ti­mate was ap­prox­i­mately cor­rect.

In the flu vac­ci­na­tion cam­paign for this com­ing fall, swine flu vac­cine is be­ing com­bined with two sea­sonal strains in sin­gle doses. Man­u­fac­tur­ers have told the govern­ment they ex­pect to make about 170 mil­lion doses.

An in­flu­en­tial govern­ment ad­vi­sory panel this year rec­om­mended that vir­tu­ally all Amer­i­cans get flu shots each year. Still, that doesn’t mean all the vac­cine will get used.

“No doubt there will be un­used doses. This hap­pens ev­ery time,” said Dr. John Tre­anor, an im­munol­ogy spe­cial­ist at the Uni­ver­sity of Rochester Med­i­cal Cen­ter.

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