Standby lists could prevent perishable Pfizer vaccine doses going in the bin

People living close to vaccination sites may receive surprise afternoon phone calls telling them to hurry in and get their jabs as part of a standby program to prevent precious Pfizer doses going to waste.

The Australian government is considering how the substitute pools could be called up at short notice in inevitable situations when highly perishable doses have already been prepared but their intended recipient has not been able to make it to the clinic.

Pfizer COVID-19 vaccinations must be used within six hours of being prepared. Credit:AP

The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine must be stored between minus 60 degrees Celsius and minus 80 degrees Celsius in ultra heavy-duty freezers fitted at nine Victorian vaccination hubs. Once removed from the freezers, the vaccine can last about five days in a normal fridge.

But the real race begins once the vials are opened and the doses are diluted with small amounts of saline. If doses are not administered within six hours of being prepared, they must be thrown away.

It means clinics and the national COVID-19 information and booking service must undergo a complex process of ensuring the right number of vaccinations for the right number of people at the right time.

A federal Health Department spokeswoman said the first priority was to reduce wastage in clinics during the day through careful allocation of stock and ensuring enough people were booked in to use a full vial of vaccine from the time it was defrosted.

Good stock management would mean “minimal” leftovers, but in such circumstances standby lists could be used to “contact people who are interested and within the priority population groups, to receive vaccines at the end of the day … Clinics may also maintain similar lists.”

In Victoria, Border Force and high-risk hotel quarantine workers will be the first to get the Pfizer vaccine when it arrives in the next few weeks. However, individuals from other high-priority groups, such as healthcare workers, could potentially be called up early to make sure doses were used, depending on how the standby lists were compiled.

Authorities in other nations have developed creative solutions to stop wastage, even if that meant vaccinating people in non-priority groups.

Health workers in Israel, which has vaccinated more of its population than any other nation, will try anything and ask anyone before throwing away a dose.

Michal Cotler-Wunsh, a member of the Israeli parliament, told Vox last month: “That no-waste policy literally means that the nurse, when she’s got 10 vaccines left, hollers at the pizza guy, or the guy at the bus stop, and says, ‘Hey you, come in and get your vaccine’.”

In the United States, young and healthy people have been lining up for hours outside hospitals and successfully scoring leftover shots of Pfizer and Moderna.

In one case, Oregon healthcare workers who were stuck in a blizzard and traffic jam so desperately wanted to use their six leftover doses of Moderna they began walking car-to-car and giving random people shots in the middle of the highway.

Complicating matters for Australia is the fact the Pfizer vaccine will arrive in vials containing six doses each. Department of Health secretary Professor Brendan Murphy told a parliamentary committee that “nobody in Australia that gives vaccines at the moment is experienced with multi-dose vials”.

Some degree of wastage in the supply chain is inevitable, though the estimates vary wildly.

The French Directorate General of Health estimates a wastage rate of up to 30 per cent.

However, responding to claims of waste in Alberta, Canada, authorities tweeted on January 6 that the rate of loss had only been 0.3 per cent.

Professor Murphy warned clinics could be stripped of their vaccination accreditation if wastage rates were deemed to be too high.

Start your day informed

Our Morning Edition newsletter is a curated guide to the most important and interesting stories, analysis and insights. Sign up here.

Most Viewed in National

Source: Read Full Article