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So while people were waiting hours for swine flu vaccinations in some cities in October and November, by January local health departments were trying gimmicks to get anyone at all to come in for a shot.

Government officials have known for months that they were looking at a huge surplus. According to an Associated Press calculation based on federal purchasing information, the dollar value of the 40 million expired doses is about $261 million. The government didn’t release an official figure, but Hall said the AP estimate was approximately correct.

In Europe, where nations also found themselves with millions of unused doses, some commentators have attacked the World Health Organization, which declared swine flu a global epidemic, or pandemic. The critics have questioned the motivation of some WHO advisers who had links to the pharmaceutical industry.

Some critics have simply lamented that a lot of anxiety was raised and money wasted, not just during the swine flu scare but also in government responses to bird flu and SARS, a respiratory virus that swept parts of Asia in 2003.

“Each time the so-called experts told us that millions of people would be killed worldwide by the respective viruses. We have learned that the experts were utterly wrong,” said Dr. Ulrich Keil, a professor at Germany’s prestigious University of Muenster and a WHO adviser.

“This behavior is irresponsible because the angst campaigns … confuse the priority setting in public health,” he said. The death toll from influenza epidemics is much smaller than the number killed annually by chronic illnesses like heart disease, cancer, stroke and diabetes, he added, in an e-mail.

Unused flu vaccine is a common problem. The June 30 expiration date is set by the FDA and has less to do with the vaccine’s shelf life than the desire to tweak the recipe each year to protect against the three flu strains expected to cause the most illness.

“It’s not necessarily because it’s degraded or not potent,” said Dr. Mark Mulligan, an Emory University vaccine researcher.

In the past year, about 114 million doses of seasonal flu vaccine were distributed. The government thinks most of that was used — demand was unusually high because of fears about swine flu.

In the flu vaccination campaign for this coming fall, swine flu vaccine is being combined with two seasonal strains in single doses. Manufacturers have told the government they expect to make about 170 million doses.

An influential government advisory panel this year recommended that virtually all Americans get flu shots each year. Still, that doesn’t mean it will all get used.

“No doubt there will be unused doses. This happens every time,” said Dr. John Treanor, an immunology specialist at the University of Rochester Medical Center.