NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


April 2, 2010

Despite months of dire warnings and millions in taxpayer dollars, less than half of the 229 million doses of H1N1 vaccine the government bought to fight the pandemic have been administered -- leaving an estimated 71.5 million doses that must be discarded if they are not used before they expire.  These doses have already been placed in syringes or vials for use, which "starts the clock ticking on an expiration date, says the Washington Post. 

  • Between 81 million and 91 million doses of swine flu vaccine were injected into peoples' arms or squirted up their noses through the end of February, according to federal officials, leaving about 138 million doses unused.
  • An estimated 60 million of those will be donated to poor countries or saved for possible future use, but doses already in vials and syringes will be thrown away if not used before their expiration dates pass.  

The prospect of millions of doses of the once-precious vaccine being discarded is the latest twist in the $1.6 billion program -- the most ambitious immunization campaign in U.S. history.  The government-led effort produced a vaccine in record time, but unexpected production problems delayed delivery of the bulk of supplies until after the second wave of infections had peaked, leaving millions anxious and frustrated as they scrambled for the shots and nasal sprays. 

Nevertheless, officials said they were largely satisfied with the effort, which blunted the impact of the first flu pandemic in decades.  Between 72 million and 81 million U.S. residents are estimated to have been immunized, including nearly 37 percent of children ages six months to 17 years. 

The immunization program was designed to provide enough vaccine to protect every U.S. resident if needed.  But antiquated technology dependent on growing the virus in chicken eggs delayed arrival of most of the doses.  Fears about the pandemic fostered wide-scale anxiety and spawned long lines as the first doses trickled in amid the second wave of infections last fall.  By the time the vaccine was plentiful, demand had dissipated, says the Post. 

Source: Rob Stein, "Millions of H1N1 vaccine doses may have to be discarded," Washington Post, April 1, 2010. 

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