JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – State health officials in Florida say if coronavirus vaccine doses at state vaccination clinics are set to expire and have gone unused, the state will immediately relocate the doses.
The Florida Division of Emergency Management press secretary gave the example of doses hours away from spoiling being delivered to long-term care facilities or to another site in the area.
The answer comes after reports of state and local vaccination clinics scrambling at the end of the day to find people to vaccinate in order not to waste doses that are set to expire.
Seminole County’s emergency manager told Fox 35 Orlando on Jan. 13 that there were seven doses set to expire after a day of vaccinations at the county’s Oviedo Mall. Some people with appointments didn’t show up. They began to ask shoppers if they wanted to be vaccinated.
“We had to deviate from the priority 1A, but we felt it was more important to vaccinate and save those individuals’ lives than to obviously discard it,” Seminole County Emergency Manager Alan Harris told Fox 35 Orlando.
Harris said his office doesn’t do this anymore. Instead, his office sends the few remaining doses to assisted living facilities or nursing homes.
“If that isn’t available, then we have a list of unmet needs, homebound, individuals. A home mobile team goes to their homes,” said Harris in an email to News4Jax.
Medical workers at the state vaccination clinic at Regency Square Mall in Jacksonville asked bystanders in the parking lot on Jan. 21 if they wanted to be vaccinated. It was 5:30 p.m. The site was supposed to be closed. There was no one left in line waiting for their appointment. But the site still had unused COVID-19 shots left over.
A worker in scrubs ran out of the old Sears store where they are working to search for someone who hadn’t been vaccinated yet. She told bystanders that they had 20 left and they didn’t want to throw them away. It wasn’t immediately clear how many, if any, went to waste.
Florida Department of Health in Duval County officials could only speak for the Prime Osborn vaccination site, which is only administering second doses of the Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine. A spokesperson for the department said they do have a contingency plan to ensure the vaccine is administered correctly. The spokesperson added that the Moderna vaccine has a longer shelf life than the Pfizer vaccine being administered at the Regency Square Mall site.
UF Health epidemiologist Chad Neilsen says planning for unused doses on the brink of expiration is a dilemma medical institutions across the country are facing. The choice, sometimes, is either vaccinate whoever is available -- even if those people are not in the top priority tier currently qualified -- or waste precious doses that will spoil if left unused.
“Once they’ve been out at that certain temperature for a certain amount of time, that’s it. It spoils, and the vaccine actually kind of falls apart internally,” said Neilsen. “If it’s using it on someone else, or wasting it, use it.”
It’s still unclear whether Florida is tracking unused and expired vaccine doses at hospitals and vaccination clinics, or if state officials are tracking where those unused vaccines are redistributed. The state Department of Emergency Management press secretary told News4Jax that she was working to answer that question.