With the H1N1 (swine) flu pandemic declared over, the Maryland Department of the Environment is helping to ensure the safe collection of excess vaccine for disposal. The United States public health emergency for the 2009 H1N1 flu expired in June, and, in August, the World Health Organization declared an end to the pandemic globally.
Over the course of the pandemic, about 162 million H1N1 flu vaccine doses were distributed to healthcare providers, and of those, 90 million doses were administered, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
All 2009 H1N1 flu vaccine manufactured in 2009 and distributed in the United States expired by September 15, 2010, regardless of the date on the label, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
MDE issued an order setting conditions for the safe management of vaccines collected by federal authorities. The order also requires contingency plans to be in place to handle a spill or leak of vaccines. This was necessary because MDE began to learn of instances of disposal of excess vaccine as ordinary trash. Some formulations of the H1N1 flu vaccine include a mercury-containing preservative, and reducing mercury in the environment is a key objective of the Department. Vaccines with mercury at levels above regulatory limits are being disposed of at a hazardous waste facility in East Liverpool, Ohio. Vaccines without the preservative or with minimal levels of mercury are being disposed of at waste-to-energy facilities in Baltimore, Indianapolis, and Chesapeake, Va.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the CDC developed the voluntary “Central Vaccine Recovery Program” to assist healthcare providers with the safe disposal of unused, unwanted H1N1 flu vaccine and asked Maryland for assistance. Healthcare providers with relatively small amounts of excess vaccine are to ship their vaccine to a central collection point from which DHHS arranges for proper disposal. For larger generators, DHHS makes arrangements for shipment of the excess vaccine directly from the generator to the disposal facility.
Operation of the collection program began in early June of this year. It is scheduled to conclude by January 31, 2011.
The CDC has said that the virus is likely to continue to spread for years to come, like a regular seasonal flu virus. CDC recommends a yearly flu vaccination as the first and most important step in protecting against the flu. The U.S. 2010-2011 seasonal influenza vaccine will protect against an H3N2 virus, an influenza B virus, and the 2009 H1N1 flu virus.
Click here for Questions and Answers about the Central Vaccine Recovery Program from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention