Clinics look to minimize vaccine wastage

Updated: May. 9, 2021 at 11:31 PM EDT
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - As demand for a COVID-19 vaccine wanes, clinics are taking extra precautions to prevent any unused doses from spoiling.

Once thawed, a Pfizer vaccine needs to be used within five days and once at room temperature, the vaccine needs to be used within six hours according to the FDA’s EUA fact sheet. Moderna vials have similar handling requirements with punctured vials needing to be used within 12 hours. Each Moderna vial hold 10 doses which means 10 people need to be ready to get the shot within those hours

This is why many clinics require people to make an appointment. However, not everyone has the ability to make an appointment, hence why walk-up clinics have started to become more common, especially in rural, underserved areas.

“We want to make sure these vaccines are equitable,” said Dr. Youlanda Gibbs with the Palmetto Palace Mobile Health Unit. “Yesterday we were in a Hispanic community from 3:30 p.m. until 7 p.m. We are talking about people who are working seven days a week and by the time they are off – a lot of clinics are not open.”

Gibbs was directing traffic at their walk-up vaccination clinic at Haut Gap Middle School Sunday afternoon. Because it’s a walk up, there is a fine balancing act taking place to make sure they are preparing exactly the number of doses they need to get everyone vaccinated without any waste.

“We have a pharmacist on staff, as well as a pharmacist tech on staff. We are not drawing up excessive amounts. We are drawing up what we need,” Gibbs said. “We are counting the cars ahead of time to make sure that we make sure that when we are drawing up these vaccines we do not have to waste any.”

The Department of Health and Environmental Control is able to pull data straight from the Vaccine Administration Management System on wasted doses. The latest data from April 3 shows there were 1,800 doses wasted across the state. That number includes Pfizer and Moderna.

Wasted doses must be reported in one of four categories: Broken vial/syringe, lost or unaccounted for, open but not all doses administered, or drawn into a syringe but not administered.

- Broken Vial/Syringe: 911

- Lost or unaccounted for: 0

- Open but not all administered: 625

- Drawn but not administered: 264

- Total in SC: 1,800

While waste is not considered good, DHEC says it is unavoidable and in some circumstances preferable.

“It’s important to note that while we recommend providers implement methods for limiting vaccine waste, it’s preferred that a vial should be opened to administer vaccine to an individual needing their shot, and leftover vaccine be discarded, instead of not providing the vaccine to the individual,” reads a statement from DHEC.

At Gibbs’ clinic she says the best way to prevent waste is to simply draw a large crowd.

“We are not having to waste because we are working with community members. Like this school,” Gibbs said. “We have four churches that are working with us and the Hispanic community is working with us today. They have been telling their members to come out and get this opportunity. Receive the gift today.”

Gibbs says they administered around 500 doses of Moderna and Jansen vaccines at Sunday’s walk-up clinic.

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