As part of a nationwide effort to salvage expired shots, U.S. regulators have extended expiration dates on COVID-19 vaccine doses for a second time, saving hundreds of thousands of doses from the trash after they were initially slated to expire.
In a letter sent Wednesday to Johnson & Johnson, a Department of Health and Human Services Agency said the doses remain safe and effective for at least six months if properly stored. With the FDA’s move, more Americans can receive vaccinations for six more weeks.
Vaccines For COVID-19 Must Be Used Before They Expire
Public health officials are also stepping up efforts in multiple states as they ensure that soon-to-expire vaccines are administered to the public before their expiration dates. As a result of the rapid spread of the highly contagious delta variant of the coronavirus, the number of infections has surged dramatically, particularly among the unvaccinated. Immunization rates have only recently rebounded after a steep decline from their April peak.
As children are heading back to school just a few weeks from now, this is a crucial period, says Juliann Van Liew, director of the Wyandotte County public health department. In addition to the eight million doses already shipped to states, the federal government shipped another 8 million doses of J&J’s shot to states that had not yet received them, according to the CDC website. The company did not specify the vaccine’s expiration date.
Several states report that Pfizer and Moderna vaccine doses are also approaching expiration. Doses expire 60 months after manufacture, so in Louisiana, about 100,000 Pfizer doses are scheduled to be obsolete in about a week.
Many governments are urging people to get vaccinated, and some are rewarding them with cash incentives. New Mexico and New York City just offered $100 payments, among other places. In New Jersey, Washington, and Wisconsin, marketplaces have been set up to facilitate the redistribution of about-to-expire vaccines to healthcare providers, as well as dedicated staff.
Vaccines approaching expiration are being sent to places like Iowa and North Dakota where they are most likely to be used, officials said. Molly Howell, North Dakota’s immunization director, said if there are unspent doses, they will be distributed to providers in need.
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Health officials want to utilize the doses as efficiently as possible, said Lacy Fehrenbach, deputy director of response to COVID-19 at the Department of Health in Washington. As a result, they’re being moved around either by providers or the federal government, depending on where those people need them, she said.
Occupational health services, Johns Hopkins University, interim executive medical director, Clarence Lam, welcomed the extension of the J&J shots. “We regret wasting this supply when there are areas around the world where these are needed,” Lam added.
Its use has been hindered by rare side effects including the need for refrigeration since it involves just one shot. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services updated its warning this month about potentially dangerous neurological reactions resulting from fluoxetine use. Earlier that month, the shot was withdrawn after the link with a rare blood clot disorder emerged. Health officials said its overall benefits still outweighed its risks.
As a result of contamination problems, the FDA closed down a Baltimore vaccine factory in April, forcing the company to throw away the equivalent of tens of millions of doses produced on behalf of Johnson & Johnson.
Over 150 million Americans have already received vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna. Comparatively, only 13 million, or 9%, have received vaccines from Johnson & Johnson. It is estimated that nearly 164 million people have received vaccinations in the U.S., or about 49% of the population.