Unused Covid-19 vaccines worth €95m discarded by HSE last year

More than 850,000 doses of past-expiry date Covid-19 vaccines thrown out

The HSE spent almost €130 million on vaccines in 2021 with €4.6 million worth of these being donated to poorer countries. Spending last year had reached €142 million by the end of November, with €19 million in stock donated overseas.

The Health Service Executive wrote off almost €95 million spent on unused Covid-19 vaccines last year.

The writedown was made in respect of stocks that had passed their expiry date last December and other stocks that were due to go out-of-date or become obsolete shortly after, HSE board members have been told.

More than 850,000 doses of Covid-19 vaccine were discarded up to the end of last November after they expired. In some cases, this was due to reduced demand; in others, due to policy decisions not to use specific vaccines for specific groups.

The HSE spent almost €130 million on vaccines in 2021 with €4.6 million worth of these being donated to poorer countries, it has previously said. Spending last year had reached €142 million by the end of November, with €19 million in stock donated overseas.

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Ireland signed up to buy five Covid-19 vaccines, from Pfizer, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson, AstraZeneca and Novavax. Most people receive Pfizer or Moderna shots and use of the AstraZeneca vaccine has been terminated.

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The write-off on vaccine stocks was one of a number of issues impacting on the HSE’s annual financial statement for 2022, board members have been told, along with inflationary payments to section 39 providers (voluntary bodies funded by the HSE whose staff are not public service employees), and the pandemic recognition payment to nursing homes and section 39s.

Other issues have been carried forward from 2021, including the ongoing financial impact of Covid-19, the cost of personal protective equipment (PPE), and procurement compliance, minutes of the HSE’s audit and risk committee from February show.

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The committee heard there had been “significant ongoing engagement” with the Department of Health about the HSE’s financial challenges, “but no agreement has been made”.

Last month, The Irish Times reported the HSE warned the Department of Health it could need more than €2 billion over its official allocation due to gaps in funding and external factors such as the Ukraine war and inflation. This was in spite of record funding of €21.1 billion announced in the 2023 service plan, including €240 million for new initiatives.

The department does not accept this analysis of the financial challenges faced by the health service.

The HSE was expected to substantially break even at the end of 2022, according to minutes of a meeting of the audit and risk committee in February, though the ultimate position would depend on what level of deficit from within voluntary bodies it should fund.

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen is a former heath editor of The Irish Times.