Working against the clock, Triangle hospitals make sure COVID-19 vaccines aren’t wasted


DURHAM, N.C. (WNCN) — While demand is high for COVID-19 vaccines, nationwide there are reports of unused vaccines and even instances, such as in California, of vaccines being thrown away.  

CBS 17 spoke with Duke Health’s head pharmacist about how much vaccine has gone to waste and how teams are working to make sure every dose is used.  

​Between the time Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine leaves storage from an ultra-cold freezer, and the time it’s injected into someone’s arm, the clock is ticking — and several steps must be followed precisely, Duke officials say.

 “There are many different factors that go into the preparation and administration point where there are errors that can take place,” explained Kuldip Patel, Duke’s interim chief pharmacy officer.   

Duke Health’s most recent numbers show less than half of a percent of their vaccine, 0.4% has gone to waste. Hospital officials expect that number to decrease as more vaccines are administered.  

Hospital officials say, “isolated instances involving human error,” are to blame. 

“There’s probably multiple different reasons, whether it’s the preparation that was made and pulled into the syringes, maybe the dosing may not have been 100 percent accurate,” explained Patel. “If there is any lack of confidence there, we would call on that dose to be discarded.”   

While Patel said it’s difficult to eliminate all human error, his team is working to do everything possible to keep vaccine from being wasted. That means making sure no doses are left over at the end of the day.

 “We’re continuing to get better and better at predicting what our anticipated needs are,” he said.

Once the Pfizer vaccine is moved from the ultra-cold freezer to the refrigerator, it can be stored in the refrigerator for up to five days. After it is reconstituted, it lasts only a matter of hours.

“At that point is where the time clock starts which gives you six hours from the point of preparation to the point of administration,” Patel said.

If no one gets the shot within those six hours, the dose would have to be discarded. Patel says he has not seen that happen.  

If, at the end of a vaccination clinic, there are any doses left, due to canceled appointments, Patel said plenty of people, who meet the state’s eligibility requirements to get a vaccine, are willing to get a last-minute shot.

“We have maintained lists of individuals, whether it’s patients in the community or health care workers, who are eligible to receive the vaccines, to be able to call them to make sure we don’t waste that supply,” he explained.   

Other Triangle hospitals report similar demand for shots. According to UNC Health, shots are so in-demand that if someone doesn’t show up for a vaccine appointment, it can be posted and filled almost immediately.  

WakeMed also reports “streamlined processes for preparing and dispensing COVID vaccines to prevent wastage of vaccine,” and reports no incidents or accidents with the vaccine so far.  

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