SALT LAKE CITY -- Public health departments in Utah are getting rid of thousands of expired, unused swine flu vaccines.
The health department in Salt Lake County -- the state's largest -- has already sent off about 1,500 doses to the incinerator. Another 5,500 will expire at the end of the month. In Utah County, about 11,000 outdated doses will have to be destroyed by the end of June.
"Part of the problem was the fact that demand preceded supply," said Lance Madigan, a spokesman for the Utah County Health Department.
Everyone, it seemed, wanted a vaccine back in September and October when swine flu had a high public profile and health officials were still unsure how widespread it would become. In Utah, though, most large batches of vaccine didn't arrive until November and December.
As the number of serious swine flu cases dropped off, widespread public interest in the vaccines waned in late winter and many health departments had scores of unused leftovers with fast-approaching expiration dates.
Ordering vaccines can be tricky, health officials say. It's a balancing act between having enough to meet demand but not so much that large quantities are never touched.
"We'd rather have too much than too little," said David Heaton, a spokesman for the Southwest Utah Public Health Department that will have to get rid of about 2,000 H1N1 doses before summer starts.
Health officials say vaccines, including those for the seasonal flu, have a limited shelf life. Millions of flu shots are leftover at the end of each flu season.
In typical years, health departments can send back the unused doses to the manufacturer for credit. But because the H1N1 vaccine was funded by the federal government and provided to states for free, there's no need to send them back, health officials say. Instead they're packed up with other medical waste and sent to the incinerator.
In Davis County, health officials tried to first use those with the nearest expiration dates and, later, ordered doses with a shelf life lasting into 2011. So far, the health district there hasn't had any expired doses to get rid of, said spokesman Bob Ballew.
In Vernal, the Tri County Health Department worked with private clinics and other health providers to identify doses that were nearing an expiration date and find a use for them, even if it meant taking them somewhere else.
Ultimately the district probably only had to get rid of a few hundred doses that were past their due dates, said Sharon Weyland, the emergency response coordinator.
Health departments continue to urge people to get vaccinated for H1N1 and note the possibility that activity could pick up again in the spring.
Although Salt Lake Valley Health Department officials will have to jettison some 7,000 expired doses this spring, they still have another 4,000 doses good until May 2011.
"We were happy to be overprepared," said spokeswoman Pam Davenport.