The robust supply in the United States allowed President Joe Biden this week to pledge an additional 500 million doses of Pfizer’s COVID-19 to be shared with the world, doubling the United States’ global contribution. Aid groups and health organizations have pushed the United States and other countries to improve access to vaccines in countries where even the most vulnerable people have not been vaccinated.
One of the challenges states face is not ordering too many doses and letting them go to waste. Several states with low immunization rates, including Idaho and Kansas, have reported throwing away thousands of expired doses or struggling to use vaccines near their expiration date this fall.
While most vaccines can sit on unopened shelves for months, once a vial is opened the countdown begins. The vaccines are only usable for six to 12 hours, depending on the manufacturer, according to the United States Food and Drug Administration.
Moderna vaccines come in vials containing 11 to 15 doses. Pfizer vials contain up to six doses and Johnson & Johnson vials contain five doses.
“We’re going to see more unused doses over time,” said Wisconsin Health Secretary Karen Timberlake. “They come in the form of multidose files. They are not presented in pleasant and tidy individual packaging.
State health officials have said they have tried to ask only for what health care providers and pharmacies expect from the federal supply. These numbers have declined since vaccines became widely available in early spring.
But U.S. officials – hoping some of the unvaccinated will change their mind – are trying to keep enough vaccine in stock for all Americans to get.
This balance is delicate and can lead to consternation around the world as the United States sits on unused vaccines as many countries in places like Africa cannot get enough vaccines.
“Someone sitting in a country with few resources to access vaccines, see people in the United States able to walk into a pharmacy and get vaccinated and choose not to, I’m sure that’s causing heartbreak, ”said Jen Kates, senior vice president and director of global health and HIV policy for the Kaiser Family Foundation.
Dr Marcus Plescia, chief medical officer of the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials, which represents public health agencies in the 50 U.S. states, the District of Columbia and the U.S. territories, said officials anticipate the available doses COVID-19 vaccines and the ability of manufacturers to supply more will meet needs across the country.
“I think states have tried to plan as if everyone is going to be offered a recall,” he said, suggesting they would be over-prepared for the narrower recommendations issued by the FDA and the Centers for Disease. Control and Prevention.
California, for example, estimated earlier this month that it would need to give an additional 63 million doses by the end of 2022 – if initial injections for children under 12 were approved and boosters were given. were open to everyone.
Last Thursday, U.S. health officials approved booster shots of the Pfizer vaccine for all Americans 65 and older – as well as tens of millions of young people at higher risk of coronavirus due to their health or work. .
California, with nearly 40 million people, has the lowest transmission rate of any state, and nearly 70% of eligible residents are fully immunized. This leaves nearly 12 million people unvaccinated or not fully vaccinated.
California Secretary of Health Dr Mark Ghaly said the state would rely heavily on pharmacies and primary care providers to give reminders to the elderly, while some large counties and healthcare groups would use mass vaccination sites.
In Pennsylvania, more than 67% of residents over 18 are fully immunized. Acting Health Secretary Alison Beam said health authorities now have “two missions”: to continue to persuade people to get vaccinated and to serve those who wish to receive a booster or initial injections.
“Pennsylvania is going to be prepared,” Beam said. “And we are going to have the right level of vaccines and vaccinators to be able to meet this demand. “