The much-hyped swine flu shot program left behind millions of doses of expired or expiring vaccine, including more than half a million unused doses for Oklahomans.
The government spent more than $1.5 billion for the swine flu vaccine program. Oklahoma residents, like those in other states, lined up and sometimes waited more than three hours to get the federally supplied vaccinations from clinics and schools after the H1N1 virus hit in the spring of 2009.
The decisions to produce vaccine in large amounts were in line with the threat level at the time, said Bill Hall, spokesman for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
"Although there were many doses of vaccine that went unused, it was much more appropriate to have been prepared for the worst-case scenario than to have had too few doses," Hall said.
Don Blose, the state Health Department's chief of immunization service, agrees.
"Vaccine is one of the best preventive tools we have to protect people," he said. "It was particularly lethal for some individuals ... younger people were at risk, as opposed to the elderly."
About 61 million people in the United States were infected with the H1N1 virus, and about 12,000 died. In Oklahoma, more than 1,000 people were hospitalized with the virus, and 44 died.
The federal government made about 162 million doses of the vaccine available for the public.
About 90 million doses wound up injected in arms or sprayed into noses.
About 40 million doses expired June 30. The remaining 32 million doses have varying expiration dates, with some as late as next year, Hall said.
The government set aside more than 1.3 million doses for Oklahoma, but less than half of that, 602,000, was actually used. Almost 208,000 doses have expired, according to the state Health Department.
Almost 213,000 doses are in doctors' offices and clinics across the state with varying dates of expiration, and another 299,000 doses are available for shipment to Oklahoma.
About 10,000 doses of Oklahoma's H1N1 vaccine won't expire until June 2011. Some of that will be used in an Oklahoma Health Department program in a few weeks for children under 9 who have not already received a flu shot, Blose said.
Dr. Gene Claflin, Oklahoma City-County Health Department medical director, said taking an H1N1 vaccination this summer will not cause a problem with also taking the seasonal flu vaccination in the fall.
"If anything, it would give the individual more immunity to the flu, because it would act as a booster to the initial vaccination," Claflin said.
Claflin said H1N1 still is circulating in the U.S. but at very low levels.
While there's a good chance that H1N1 will be the predominant flu strain this winter, it's never certain what the dominant strain will be until the flu season is under way, he said.