February 5, 2010, By Victoria Fletcher
BILLIONS of pounds have been wasted on vaccinations that will never be used after the swine flu alert was scaled down.
Ministers said yesterday the fluhotline and website that make up the National Pandemic Flu Service will be closed from next week in what is the clearest indication yet that the outbreak is subsiding.
Fewer than 5,000 new cases of the H1N1 virus have been recorded every week for the past six weeks, down from a high of 100,000 last summer.
But as the NHS was taken off red alert, questions were asked over why so many doses of the vaccine were ordered but never used.
Last night, critics described the Government’s reaction as “excessive”.
Matthew Elliott, chief executive of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, said: “The Government’s reaction to swine flu was excessive and poorly managed.
“Of course they should be vigilant to health threats, but they’ve taken that too far, landing taxpayers with a vast bill and unnecessary vaccines.
“It beggars belief that they could have signed so many massive contracts with such a flawed assessment of the threat.”
The Department of Health ordered 132 million doses of swine flu jabs so that every person could have two doses each.
However it quickly emerged that one dose would be sufficient.
Although there were well-publicised reports of severe illness, hospital admissions and deaths, many of those struck down said their illness had only been mild.
This deterred many people in the at-risk groups from having the jab. Latest figures show that only 4.25 million people have been vaccinated out of the 17 million offered the inoculation.
And only 13 million doses have so far been delivered to the NHS. The other 119 million ordered doses are either in warehouses or have not yet been manufactured.
So far, the cost of the drugs has remained a secret but some estimates suggest the vaccines could have cost as much as £9 a dose, with a total bill of more than £1billion.
The Department of Health is trying to negotiate with the drugs companies GSK and Baxter to see if it can cancel some of the order but it is unclear if it will get any money back.
Last night, the Government’s top doctor said it was still important for parents to get the under-fives vaccinated in case swine flu makes a return next year.
Sir Liam Donaldson, Chief Medical Officer for England said: “I am pleased to see increasing uptake of vaccine amongst the under-fives. Deaths in this age group have been deeply distressing. When the virus returns I would very much like to see young children already protected.
“From now on, most deaths from the pandemic flu virus should be regarded as potentially preventable.
“General practitioners have the vaccine and stand ready to offer this vital protection. Parents should contact their doctor to make an appointment. Young children who have the jab will be protected in the next flu season.
“Pregnant women and those in all other at-risk groups should continue to have the vaccine as well.”
Critics have been sceptical over why there was such panic. The Council of Europe has accused drugs companies of forcing the World Health Organisation to declare an emergency to sell more of their products.
Dr Wolfgang Wodarg, the council’s head of health, said the swine flu saga was a medical scandal, adding: “We had a mild flu and a false pandemic.”
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