'Fiasco'

The 94 million doses were equivalent to almost one and a half for everyone in France but so far only about five million people are recorded as having been vaccinated since the programmes launch in October.

The health ministry said Qatar had already bought 300,000 doses and Egypt was negotiating to buy two million.

"We are in contact with other countries, notably Ukraine and Mexico," the ministry said.

France's Le Parisen newspaper said Paris was looking to sell its stock at the price it paid for it, between $9 to $14 depending on the product.

Jean-Marie Le Guen, the opposition Socialists' health spokesman, called the government's strategy a "fiasco", saying in a statement that despite its "exaggerated" spending the country still had a very low rate of vaccination.

Marc Gentilini, a disease specialist and former president of the French Red Cross, also criticised what he called France's  "extravagant" and costly mass vaccination campaign.

"Preparing for the worst wasn't necessarily preparing correctly," he said.

The flu virus has killed an estimated 198 people on mainland France, according to data released on December 29, but doctors have said new infections have fallen sharply in recent weeks.

Aid request

The World Health Organisation (WHO) said in December that the H1N1 virus was peaking in much of western Europe, as the disease progressed into central Europe and through parts of Asia.

France may have to compete with Germany and the Netherlands to sell off excess vaccine [AFP]
Germany also said last month it was looking to sell off vaccines even though its full order of 50 million doses was not due to be delivered until March.

Only about five per cent of the population had been vaccinated in Germany and Berlin has reported requests for vaccines from Afghanistan and central European countries including Ukraine - where France is now competing with it.

German authorities said Moldova, Kosovo, Mongolia and the Maldives had approached them asking for vaccines to be donated as aid.

The Netherlands announced in November that it would sell 19 million of the 34 million vaccines it ordered to countries with a shortage of them, judging its own flu scare had passed.

Trinidad Jimenez, Spain's health minister, was quoted as saying in the El Pais newspaper on Sunday that Madrid expects to buy a total of about 13 million doses, little more than a third of its earlier estimate of 37 million.

The WHO said last week that H1N1 has killed at least 12,220 people worldwide with the biggest share of victims in the United States and Canada, though it was now declining in North America.