Millions of Covid vaccines could go to waste as states stockpile them

Pfizer has agreed to sell 10 million doses to the UK in the first instance (Reuters)
Pfizer has agreed to sell 10 million doses to the UK in the first instance (Reuters)

State surpluses of the Covid-19 vaccine may go to waste as supply outgrows demand across the country.

Millions of the doses are set to expire this summer, according to public health officials speaking to STAT. According to the officials, state health departments have been urging the federal government to give the surplus vaccines to other countries that have less access – or none at all – to the shots.

Despite their pleas, federal officials have largely rejected the requests on the grounds that the logistical and legal issues involved would be too difficult to navigate.

Some of the waste could be mitigated if US health officials extend the acceptable shelf life of the Pfizer vaccine, but even with an extension the doses will eventually expire if they are not used.

A large portion of Pfizer doses are expected to expire in August, and based on the current rate of vaccination are not likely to be used before they must be discarded.

Marcus Plesica, the chief medical officer at the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials, told STAT that the demand for the vaccine was dropping off across the country.

"It's not like, if Connecticut doesn't need theirs, it can go to Alabama. There just isn’t the demand," he said.

According to data from the federal government, the states have been given 52.36 million more doses than they have been able to distribute. Some of that disparity is the result of reporting errors or delays, as well as wastage, and those numbers do not account for vaccines that are scheduled to be administered as second doses for those waiting to take their final shot.

Nearly a million of North Carolina's doses are expected to expire over the summer, and hundreds of thousands more will reach the end of their shelf life in the fall. In Delaware, 25,768 doses will expire in August, and in Colorado another 352,533 doses will go bad by the end of the summer.

The surplus is not just an issue for the states; the federal government has its own growing surplus. The US bought 1.41 billion doses, but has only distributed approximately 390 million doses, leaving it with a surplus of more than one billion doses. That number is only going to grow, as the nation is expecting another 562 million doses from Moderna, Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson later this year.

Last month, the US government said it planned to donate 80 million doses, and will buy another 500 million doses for low and middle-income countries.

US vaccines are especially sought after by other countries because they are ready to use and can be rapidly administered to a population.

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