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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The outdated vaccine, some of which expired Wednesday, will be incinerated.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.
According to an Associated Press calculation based on federal purchasing information, the dollar value of the 40 million expired doses is about $261 million.
Scientists who drew up the key World Health Organisation guidelines advising governments to stockpile drugs in the event of a flu pandemic had previously been paid by drug companies which stood to profit, according to a report out today.
City analysts say that pharmaceutical companies banked more than $7bn (£4.8bn) as governments stockpiled drugs. The issue of transparency has risen to the forefront of public health debate after dramatic predictions last year about a swine flu pandemic did not come true.
Some countries, notably Poland, declined to join the panic-buying of vaccines and antivirals triggered when the WHO declared the swine flu outbreak a pandemic a year ago this week. The UK, which warned that 65,000 could die as a result of the virus, spent an estimated £1bn stockpiling drugs and vaccines; officials are now attempting to unpick expensive drug contracts.