News & Politics

Extra Doses of COVID Vaccine in Pfizer Vials May Expand Supply by 40 Percent

AP Photo/Mark Lennihan, Pool

It’s not exactly the miracle of the loaves and fishes, but it is just as welcome.

The FDA says that pharmacists can draw additional doses of the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine that could expand the U.S. supply by up to 40 percent.

The agency doesn’t know how it happened. Neither does Pfizer. But apparently, each vial of the Pfizer vaccine was to contain 5 doses. Instead, pharmacists are reporting they can get 6 or even 7 doses from the vial.

Pfizer is investigating how it happened.


“At this time, given the public health emergency, FDA is advising that it is acceptable to use every full dose obtainable (the sixth, or possibly even a seventh) from each vial, pending resolution of the issue,” a representative for the agency told The Washington Post.

Politico was the first to report the news.

Pharmacists nationwide noted the extra supply of vaccines and reached out to Pfizer for guidance, but many threw away hundreds of extra doses since vaccinations began on Monday, as FDA guidelines dictated there were five doses.

The FDA did not immediately publicly announce the guidance and Pfizer learned of the change on Wednesday afternoon, according to Politico.

It could very well be that haste makes waste in this case. The vaccine is loaded into the vials using machines. A miscalibrated machine could load more vaccine than was planned.

Pfizer is probably not pleased. They don’t get paid per dose, but rather per vial. They’re giving away two doses of vaccine with every vial. Good for us. Bad for them.

“The amount of vaccine remaining in the multidose vial after removal of five doses can vary, depending on the type of needles and syringes used,” Pfizer spokeswoman Sharon Castillo said. “At this time, we cannot provide a recommendation on the use of the remaining amount of vaccine from each vial. Vaccinators need to consult their institution’s policies for the use of multidose vials.”

Both the FDA and Pfizer said that leftover vaccines from multiple vials should not be mixed due to risk of contamination.

Meanwhile, there’s some confusion at the state level about the number of doses each state was supposed to get. Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker is upset that Washington appears to be shorting Illinois millions of doses.

Washington Examiner:

“Previously, federal authorities had notified us that they planned to ship out nearly 8 million Pfizer vaccine doses to states, large cities, and territories across the country next week,” Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker, a Democrat, said during a Wednesday press conference. “However, as of this morning, I’m disappointed to learn that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services informed us that per the direction of Operation Warp Speed’s Gen. Perna, that estimate was tightened significantly, down to 4.3 million doses shipped nationally next week.”

Damn Trump, can’t he get anything right? In this case, it’s Pritzker who’s a putz.

One point of confusion could be that the government is withholding half of each state’s vaccine doses for 21 days — both Pfizer and the eventual Moderna vaccine require two shots given three weeks apart.

HHS Secretary Alex Azar said on Monday that 2.9 million doses were delivered over the weekend, with another 2.9 million doses “held back to ensure those people get their second dose in 21 days.”

There’s bound to be confusion when the effort to vaccinate 20 million people over the next couple of weeks gets underway. In truth, nothing like it has ever been attempted before.

As badly as parents wanted that polio vaccine back in 1954, everyone couldn’t get it all at the same time. It took several years to inoculate every child in America whose parents wanted it. Operation Warp Speed has performed the impossible task of shepherding two vaccines from concept to market in less than 8 months. There are going to be bumps in the road as the next miracle unfolds — distributing tens of millions of doses across the entire continent.

Pritzker should sit down and shut up and let the professionals handle it.

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