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Once Scarce, H1N1 Vaccines Now Getting Dumped

Apr 1, 2010 – 11:04 AM
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(April 1) -- More than half the government's massive stockpile of H1N1 vaccines remain unused and are set to expire, six months after health officials scrambled to prepare and distribute adequate quantities of the antidote.

The government bought 229 million doses of H1N1 vaccine. To date, about 91 million have been administered to American patients. Some of the surplus has been sent to developing countries, and other doses have been stored in bulk for future use.

But about 71 million -- prepared doses already in syringes or vials -- will need to be discarded.

Doses of H1N1 vaccine
Scott Olson, Getty Images
The H1N1 vaccine program cost the government $1.6 billion. More than half the doses are likely to get thrown away.
The first batches of H1N1 vaccine started expiring in February, and health officials in some states are now tossing overstock. In Pennsylvania, 27,000 expired doses have already been disposed of, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

It's more bad news for the much-maligned vaccine program, which cost the government $1.6 billion and was plagued by production delays and access problems. As H1N1 swept the country last fall, millions of anxious Americans added their names to weeklong waiting lists or stood in lengthy lineups to get their shot.

Despite the wasted vaccines, officials with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say they consider the immunization campaign a success, especially given the initial uncertainty over the severity of the influenza.

"We were dealing with a very unusual situation. We had a pandemic. We had young people being killed," the CDC's Anne Schuchat told The Washington Post. "We wanted to make sure we had enough. We didn't want to be short. It was important to us to be able to protect the American people."

And some of those unused vaccines might still come in handy. After a recent outbreak in Georgia and other pockets of the Southeast, CDC officials are urging those who haven't been vaccinated, especially children, pregnant women and adults with pre-existing health problems, to get a shot.

Across the country, however, concern over H1N1 has ebbed, along with infection and hospitalization rates -- meaning that Americans might not exactly race to their nearest clinic for a surplus dose.

Only one-third of Americans considered at "high risk" of developing H1N1 have been vaccinated since January, according to the CDC.

Meanwhile, the World Health Organization is preparing for an independent review to determine whether it overreacted to the H1N1 outbreak. WHO officials are denying accusations that they pandered to pharmaceutical companies keen to profit on large-scale vaccine sales.

"Could we have made decisions better? Could we have considered things in a different way at the time?" Keiji Fukuda, the WHO's leading expert on pandemics, asked at a press conference Monday. "We, along with many others, are asking the same kinds of questions of ourselves and each other."

As millions of vaccines are disposed of, millions more are being created. Vaccines for the 2010-11 flu season will contain protection against the seasonal flu and the H1N1 strain.
Filed under: Nation, Health
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