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The outdated vaccine, some of which expired Wednesday, will be incinerated. The amount, as much as four times the usual leftover seasonal flu vaccine, likely 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 one government estimate. If all that vaccine expires, more than 43 percent of the supply for the U.S. public 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 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,” said Dr. Mark Mulligan, an Emory University researcher who was involved in testing the vaccine.