The Pfizer vaccine is currently the main vaccine programme in the UK.
I’m a doctor and I’m writing to tell you that the news about coronavirus vaccines being binned in Britain is absolutely true.
The Pfizer vaccine is currently the main vaccine programme in the UK. The challenges around its use have been well documented. Once thawed from its -70˚C storage, it has to be used within a matter of days. Some vials contain extra doses of the vaccine, an extra one to two doses can be obtained from the advertised five doses.
A combination of these factors — as well as reports of some centres unexpectedly receiving extra vaccines – mean it’s notoriously difficult to be precise about how many people to invite to a vaccine centre on any given day. In turn, this means there are often extra doses left over at the end of the day.
In the clinics I’ve worked at, I’ve seen between one to three doses being thrown away at the end of the day. Yes, you’ve read that correctly — vaccine doses being thrown away, when we’re in the middle of the worst national emergency since the Second World War, and these vaccines are essential in our fight against Covid-19. If this is the case nationally, where there are more than 1,000 vaccine centres, this means between 1,000 and 3,000 doses per day are being needlessly discarded.
On challenging the people in charge of the clinic, they told me the situation is “political”. There was already controversy when the government decided to delay second doses of the Pfizer vaccine for three months, without evidence about whether it will be as effective (not for the Oxford vaccine, however).
Prior to this policy change, many of my healthcare colleagues were promised a second dose three to four weeks after their first; these have been delayed. This was hugely distressing for many of us, most healthcare workers think it’s a good idea for the population at large to be vaccinated as quickly as possible. But those working directly with COVID-19 patients have an immediate need — they have the highest risk of contracting coronavirus.
With this in the background, it’s a kick in the teeth to witness vaccine doses being thrown away — especially so when one of the vaccine centres I work at is in a hospital, where beds are currently 95 per cent occupied by coronavirus patients and where staff haven’t had their second doses. It would be very easy to bring people down at short notice to use up these extra vaccines.So, what can we do with these extra doses?
First, vaccine clinics have been coming up with lists of people who need it and can get to the centre at short notice — usually within 30 minutes. Ideally, this would be people in the priority tier groups. However, this can be difficult for older people — the top four groups are mostly elderly people, many of whom find it difficult to get somewhere so quickly. Besides, in many areas, these groups have already been vaccinated.
We, therefore, need to move on to those people out outside the top four tiers of the vaccine programme. While they are not in the priority groups, I don’t believe the British public would find fault in giving doses to our police officers, supermarket workers and teachers who have no choice but to work throughout the pandemic.
But what if these groups can’t get down to the clinics quickly? There should be no wastage, and our healthcare workers should receive their second shots if there is no one else to give them to.
And finally, if these groups can’t come down, anyone else should get — this would mean fewer people who need a dose later.
There should be moral outrage at vaccine wastage. We should not be concerned about who receives a vaccine which would have otherwise gone in the bin.
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