(AP) About a quarter of the 2009 Novel H1N1 vaccine produced for the U.S. public has expired, meaning that 40 million doses worth about $260 million are being written off as trash and will be incinerated.

“It’s a lot, by historical standards,” said Jerry Weir, who oversees vaccine research and review for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The amount, as much as four times the usual leftover seasonal flu vaccine, likely sets a record. But that’s not all.

About 30 million more doses will expire later and may go unused, according to one government estimate. If all that vaccine expires, more than 43 percent of the supply for the U.S. public will have gone to waste.

Federal officials defended the huge purchase as a necessary risk in the face of a never-before-seen virus. Many health experts had feared the new flu could be the deadly global epidemic they had long warned about, but it was fatal to fewer people than seasonal flu.

“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,” said Bill Hall, spokesman for the Department of Health and Human Services.

Millions of doses of seasonal flu vaccine typically go unused every year, but in recent years the leftovers amounted to about 10 percent of the supply.

The government placed three orders last year for a combined total of nearly 200 million doses — an unprecedented amount and almost double the amount of vaccine made in recent years for seasonal flu.

The new H1N1 flu emerged in April last year, hitting children and young adults particularly hard. It was difficult to predict how deadly it might be or how easily it might spread. Federal health officials pushed five vaccine manufacturers to quickly produce a vaccine. They wanted a lot of it because many experts thought most people would need two doses for effective protection.

Demand never took off, for several reasons:

•Tests of the vaccine soon showed one dose was sufficient to protect most people.

•Much of the vaccine was not ready until late 2009, after the largest wave of H1N1 illnesses passed.

•H1N1 flu turned out not to be as deadly as was first feared. About 12,000 deaths have been attributed to it — about a third of the estimated annual deaths from seasonal flu.

Source: Associated Press