DoH loses £200m on swine flu vaccine

The DoH has lost over £200m on unused swine flu vaccine and antivirals from last year's pandemic, the department's accounts reveal.

The DoH has been left with 30m excess doses of swine flu vaccine (Photograph: JH Lancy)
The DoH has been left with 30m excess doses of swine flu vaccine (Photograph: JH Lancy)

Data released last week show how the DoH made a loss of £128m on surplus swine flu vaccine purchased last year. Of this, the DoH spent £30m on vaccine due to be delivered in 2010/11 when the pandemic was largely over.

The department has also written off antivirals worth £72.9m, after admitting it had no evidence these drugs were stored correctly by the NHS. These drugs have been retained for potential future use, but may have to be destroyed as it is unclear whether the NHS will be able to use them without documentary evidence.

Figures in DoH resource accounts for 2009/10 show £470m was spent on antiviral drugs last year in total.

In addition to the £200m loss from swine flu, a further £23.5m was lost on date-expired vaccine doses including those for avian flu purchased in previous years.

GPC negotiator Dr Peter Holden said the figures were ‘peanuts’ in comparison to the cost of a severe pandemic.

'It's not just about keeping the nation at work, but keeping society running,’ he said. ‘If you want 100 per cent supply guarantee, it comes at a price.'

A DoH spokeswoman said: 'At the start of the outbreak, there was no way of knowing how virulent swine flu would be. The department took the necessary steps to deal with a worse case scenario in which it would have been necessary to vaccinate every member of the population twice.

'However, as the spread and virulence of the outbreak was less severe than first anticipated, less vaccine was needed.’

A global surplus of swine flu vaccine meant the DoH could not sell on the excess stock. It plans to retain the surplus, which is still clinically effective, as a 'strategic reserve'.

The DoH ordered 120m doses of swine flu vaccine, but was left with over 30m excess doses because there was no break clause in its contract with manufacturer GSK. It agreed to purchase H5N1 avian flu vaccine from GSK as part of the deal to end the contract.

At the time, then health secretary Andy Burnham described the deal as ‘good value for the taxpayer’.

For more on the issue visit our Swine Flu Resource Centre

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