Flu vaccine: written-off

A QUARTER of a million doses of swine flu vaccine will have to be destroyed while 900,000 more are on the verge of going out of date.

A large batch of 250,000 individual injections of the Celvapan vaccine expired at the end of September, the Health Service Executive (HSE) confirmed.

It is understood that each dose cost in the region of €4, meaning €1m-worth of the vaccine will have to be written off.

It is not clear whether there will be any further costs involved in their destruction.

The remaining vaccine stock of Pandemrix, held at the National Cold Chain Service, will also expire in batches in May, August and September of next year.

They will not be used, however, in vaccinating people against this year's flu virus and will in all likelihood have to be destroyed as well, HSE sources said.

The HSE said this year's flu jab would be a combination of the three most common forms of the virus, including the H1N1 strain, better known as swine flu.

"The Pandemic H1N1 strain, which is still circulating this year... is expected to be the most common strain this winter," it said. "Unlike last year, the swine-flu virus strain is included in the seasonal flu vaccine, meaning that only one flu vaccination is required this year."

The HSE is no longer specifically counting the number of new swine-flu cases in the country.

Concerns of a second wave of infections were raised last week after a six-year-old girl died of the illness in the North.

However, there will be no mass vaccination this year and only certain risk groups have been advised to get the ordinary flu jab.

The National Immunisation Advisory Committee said the over 65s, those with long-term illnesses, healthy pregnant women and those who have just given birth were still at higher risk from the complications of swine flu.

The HSE said 98% of all flu cases from last year were confirmed as being swine flu and that it would be the most common again. "Based on what happened during the southern hemisphere winter, where the H1N1 strain was the most common one, H1N1 is likely to be one of the common virus strains this year.

"Swine flu affected younger people [under 65] more in 2009 as they had not previously been exposed to this virus strain and although many of this group developed swine flu, most recovered at home."