RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — Experts say now is the time to figure out what to do with the thousands of excess doses of COVID-19 vaccine that have gone unused so far — before they expire or spoil.

“We need to be planning for what to do with that surplus,” said Dr. Pia MacDonald, an epidemiologist at RTI International.

Those doses we currently have probably aren’t in danger of spoiling soon, with the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines lasting six months and the Johnson & Johnson product two years in freezers. Providers have been using the first-in, first-out approach to reduce the chances of expiration.

And a change to the process also could mean a reduction in any possible waste.

The state Department of Health and Human Services said earlier this week that the federal government is no longer allocating doses to the states. Rather, states will make “demand-based orders” based on need.

As a result, DHHS has removed the section of its data dashboard that breaks down how many doses have been allocated.

This image from the NCDHHS data dashboard archived by archive.org shows the most recent vaccine allocations to North Carolina providers.

A CBS17.com review of archived data found only 100 doses arrived in the state during the past three weeks.

Figures posted before the removal of that section of the dashboard Tuesday showed North Carolina providers had administered 89 percent of the 7.6 million doses allocated to them by the federal government — still leaving 817,937 shots that are here but haven’t been given.

Officials at Duke Health said in a statement that the vaccine supply they’ve received “belongs to the federal government, and we must receive direction from them to redistribute.”

They said in the statement that they’re organizing several efforts to “mitigate the expiration of COVID vaccine product,” including pop-up clinics, expanding to more primary care facilities and sharing supply with regional partners.

Contracts show the federal government paid about $20 apiece for each dose of the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines, and about $10 for the one made by Johnson & Johnson.

So, what should we — both at the state and national levels — do with the ones we still have?

MacDonald says the best move is to send them to places that can use them, admitting there “are challenges to this idea — ‘Oh, just send them out to the doctors’ offices or send them to different countries.’”

“All of those things need to be planned because of the storage criteria that each of them have,” she added.

MacDonald says sending them to underserved countries helps both them — and us.

“Right now, there are many, many, many countries that need this vaccine desperately to protect their people,” she said. “And also it protects us, because the variants grow and spread in areas that have very low ability to get vaccinated, and those then spread to the United States. 

“So regardless of, if we use the vaccines domestically in the United States or internationally, it’s still going to be for our benefit and the global good,” she added.

CBS 17’s Joedy McCreary has been tracking COVID-19 figures since March 2020, compiling data from federal, state, and local sources to deliver a clear snapshot of what the coronavirus situation looks like now and what it could look like in the future.