Up to £300million of taxpayers’ money has been wasted on swine flu jabs that were never needed.
Ministers ordered 90million doses of a vaccine last year at a cost of £540million as panic over the illness gripped the country.
But as the ‘pandemic’ failed to materialise it soon became clear that the order was far too large.
The Department of Health tried to get out of the enormous contract but the drug firm, GlaxoSmithKline, refused to back down.
Yesterday the Government announced it had signed a compromise deal that caps the number of shots of Pandemrix at 34.8million – but, astonishingly, at twice the price first agreed.
It means the Government will pay for two-thirds of the original deal but only receive just over a third of the doses.
The mild nature of the illness meant only 5.1million doses have been used.
The deal was yesterday criticised by the Tories and pressure groups, who said it proved the Government had mismanaged the seven-month outbreak.
The Department of Health ordered enough vaccine to cover the entire population, with three-quarters to be supplied by GlaxoSmithKline.
But it did not have a break clause in the contracts signed with GSK – unlike with the drug firm Baxter, which had its order cancelled for all but nine million of 36million doses.
The cost of the original GSK order has never been revealed but at £6 a dose it could have reached £540million.
The contract is now being capped at 34.8million doses, including those already received, with a one-third cut in the price.
The Department of Health also announced yesterday there would be no cancellation fee.
Under the agreement, the Government will also purchase an as yet undefined amount of the H5N1 bird flu vaccine as well as courses of GSK’s anti-viral flu treatment Relenza.
Health Secretary Andy Burnham insisted that ‘significant savings’ had been made.
‘I am pleased we have reached an agreement that is good value for the taxpayer and means that the department has retained a strategic stockpile to protect the UK population without incurring a cancellation fee,’ he said.
‘This both protects the public purse and ensures the UK remains at the forefront of pandemic preparedness worldwide.’
Britain will donate 3.8million doses of the vaccine to the World Health Organisation for use in Africa ahead of the rainy season.
Tory health spokesman Andrew Lansley accused Gordon Brown of ‘seeking to bury bad news’ on the day the election was called.
‘This is a careless waste of precious NHS money,’ he added.
‘Labour failed to ensure there were proper break clauses in the contracts which means that British taxpayers have got an extremely bad deal.’
The TaxPayers’ Alliance strongly criticised the mismanagement of the seven-month outbreak.
Chief executive Matthew Elliott said: ‘It’s an outrage that the Government has squandered millions of pounds of taxpayers’ cash because they did a poor job of negotiating the contract for the swine flu vaccine.
‘That money could have gone towards life-saving drugs for NHS patients but instead we have a huge stock of surplus vaccines and an excessive bill for doses we never needed.
‘While there is obviously a margin of error in any assessment of the possible need for pandemic vaccines, this is an eye-watering amount of money to waste.’
Simon Jose of GlaxoSmithKline said: ‘Understanding of the H1N1 pandemic has significantly evolved since the declaration (of a pandemic) by the World Health Organisation last June and we recognise that governments’ needs and public health priorities are changing.
‘We are committed to working with them to respond to their needs as the pandemic evolves and find appropriate and fair solutions.
‘In line with these principles, we are pleased to have reached a settlement, which has been mutually agreed as representing fair value for the UK Government and for GSK.’
The Mail investigated in February how drug firms, the World Health Organisation and ministers helped stoke fears of the swine flu ‘pandemic’. Here is an abridged version of our disturbing findings:
Scientists and pharmaceutical companies that profited from the swine flu scare stand accused of grossly exaggerating the risks of the outbreak.
In Britain it was predicted up to 65,000 would die from the virus. The Government sprang into action and spent £1billion stockpiling anti-virals such as Tamiflu and ordering enough vaccines to give two doses to every man, woman and child.
The National Pandemic Flu Service or ‘Swine Flu Hotline’ was set up to take the pressure off GPs and ‘diagnosed’ 1.7million as suffering from the illness. Of these 1,125,000 collected free Tamiflu prescriptions.
The Government also launched a mass vaccination programme which gave 4.25million the jab and stockpiled between 90 and 120million doses of the vaccine.
But the Doomsday scenario never unfolded. Just 457 people died of swine flu, but as 80 per cent of these had underlying health problems, only around 100 died of swine flu alone.
The Government argues this relatively small impact is thanks to its prudence.
But in Poland, which refused to inoculate against swine flu, only 150 people died from the illness out of a 40million population.
And research suggests as many as eight out of ten people diagnosed with swine flu by the hotline did not have it.
This means more than 800,000 of the million-odd packets of Tamiflu were given needlessly.
The World Health Organisation stands accused of announcing ‘a false pandemic’ in June last year.
Critics claim the drug firms manipulated the WHO into downgrading its definition of a pandemic so they could cash in.
In all, the companies behind the vaccines and anti-virals will pick up an estimated £4billion windfall from swine flu.
GlaxoSmithKline has revealed sales of its H1N1 vaccine reached £835million in the fourth quarter of last year.
In the same period, Novartis notched up vaccine sales of more than £800million, the vast majority from H1N1 sales.
Swiss drugs firm Roche reported profits up 14 per cent to £8.89billion last year, helped by sales of Tamiflu.
These companies vehemently deny having influenced the way in which the swine flu pandemic was managed.
Scientists warn it is far too early to say that the threat from the H1N1 virus is over and that next winter swine flu will return.
But with a perception that the scientific community has cried wolf one too many times, the fear is that individuals will be less inclined to follow such advice.