AT LEAST 270,000 doses of swine flu vaccine will pass their expiration date within the next four months and will have to be destroyed, it has emerged.

The vaccines were purchased late last year at the height of public hysteria over the feared pandemic of the H1N1 flu, which ultimately never materialised.

In all, the Health Service Executive (HSE) spent almost €13m buying three million doses of the vaccine but just 1.1 million shots were administered to members of the public.

The remaining 1.9 million vaccinations remain in storage with expiry dates rapidly approaching, which would render them entirely useless.

The HSE said: "The Baxter vaccine has an expiry date of October 2010 and the GlaxoSmithKline vaccine an expiry date of September 2011."

Figures obtained by the Sunday Tribune show that 270,000 doses of the Baxter vaccine are still being stored centrally and are highly unlikely to see any use. Based on an estimated average cost of around €4 per vaccination, that €1.2m stockpile will expire in October and be of no further use.

A further 350,000 shots of the Baxter vaccine were distributed around the country to GPs' surgeries and other clinics and a majority of those are thought to have been used.

In total, 2.35 million doses of the GlaxoSmithKline vaccine were delivered to Ireland with 1.78 million of those gone out to GPs and clinics.

A further 1.2 million doses of that vaccine are in central storage and can be used until September 2011 if a second wave of swine flu infections begins.

The HSE said that it had spent a total of between €34m to €40m on its swine flu vaccination campaign.

The cost to the taxpayer could, however, have been far worse and only the cancellation of additional supplies saved a further €35m.

The public vaccination campaign came to an official halt in March 2010 by which time 24 people had died during the eight months of the "pandemic". Seasonal flu ordinarily claims the lives of up to 200 people every year.