When David MacMillan and a friend were browsing a grocery store in Washington, DC on New Years Day to pick up items to cook a leisurely dinner, he was presented with an opportunity that many Americans eagerly await: to get the vaccine against the COVID-19.
The 31-year-old law student said TODAY he was passing through the pharmacy section when he noticed a pharmacist talking to an older woman about whether she wanted to receive the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine at this moment. The customer looked “hesitant” and “confused” and ultimately refused, MacMillan said, that’s when the pharmacist turned to him and his companion.
MacMillan remembers asking, “Hey, I have two doses of Moderna vaccine. They’re going to expire, and I’m going to throw them away at the end of the day, and we’ll close in 10 minutes. Do you want them?”
MacMillan said he was “ecstatic” at the idea and agreed. The whole process, including the paperwork and monitoring for possible side effects, took 15 minutes, he estimated. He said he developed mild symptoms for a few days afterwards, including a headache and pain in his arm, similar to what he felt after a flu shot. He is already planning to receive his second dose later this month, he added.
The DC Department of Health has confirmed to TODAY that the city’s policy is “zero vaccine waste. Pharmacists should follow our advice. If doses expire due to missed appointments, they should administer the vaccine. to anyone who wants to take it. “
Time constraints around vaccine use
Across the country, there are people like MacMillan, who gained access to a COVID-19 vaccine when they were not in one of the priority groups, which are determined by the state. Most of those vaccinated at this stage are healthcare workers.
But from northern California to Connecticut, there are reports that other people are getting vaccinated to prevent the vaccines from being wasted. This can happen due to storage issues or if someone is not showing up for their appointment. There are time constraints around when doses should be used after opening the vial. Moderna’s vaccine has 10 doses in a vial, while Pfizer’s has five to six, said Judson Howe, president of Adventist Health (a faith-based health care system based on the West Coast and in Hawaii) in Mendocino County, Calif., TODAY.
Storage problems can arise because both types of vaccines need to be kept cold and then come to room temperature before administration, said Dr Bessant Parker, chief medical officer of Adventist Health in County of California today. Mendocino. Moderna vaccine is viable for six months when stored in a freezer between -15 and -25 degrees centigrade, but it can remain at normal refrigerator temperature for 30 days. When it reaches room temperature, it should be administered within 12 hours.
Pfizer, on the other hand, requires ultra-cold storage at -70 degrees Centigrade, but it can sit in a refrigerator for five days, Parker said. Once taken out of the refrigerator, it should be used within six hours.
U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar on Wednesday recommended states start vaccinating lower priority groups if they have doses that would otherwise just sit in a freezer. “Faster administration could save lives now, which means we can’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good,” he said.
How health officials and hospital staff prevent waste
Adventist Health’s Ukiah Valley Medical Center in northern California encountered a vaccine storage problem earlier this week, which led to a rush to distribute 830 doses. At around 11:30 a.m. on Monday, Parker and Howe said they were told that one of the facility’s freezers had broken down and that hundreds of doses of Moderna vaccine had been at room temperature since 2 a.m.
The recommendation from the local health department was to put them in the arms of as many people as possible before they expired around 2 p.m., Howe said. The hospital donated 200 vaccines to the public health department, called local nursing homes, and set up a clinic next to one of the largest local primary care providers, where staff did not have yet been vaccinated. There were four pop-up clinics in total.
Parker estimated that over 60% of the doses ended up going to members of the general public. One of them is Leslie Banta, a 56-year-old teacher who cares for her 92-year-old mother and whose husband has an underlying health problem.
“It was kind of a happy atmosphere,” she said TODAY. “People were really happy, very polite. There was no answer: “I should get the vaccine and you shouldn’t.” She said she is waiting for a follow-up call from the hospital to schedule her second dose.
‘The clock is turning’
Meanwhile, in Middletown, Connecticut, last week, 15 non-health workers, including the mayor, were vaccinated to avoid throwing away doses, the city’s interim health director Kevin Elak said, TODAY.
“We didn’t really expect that if there were people calling sick or not showing up, we would have the vaccine left,” he said. “Myself and the director of emergency management … said, ‘OK, we have these doses left, the clock is running now. … we don’t want to throw them away.'”
The doses were all given to city workers, some of whom had underlying health issues, Elak said, adding that the community’s reaction was mixed, which he attributes in part to Mayor Ben Florsheim, 28. years old, young and healthy.
“The bottom line is… it’s happening across the country where the doses have been thrown out… so nobody wants to see this,” Elak said. He also pointed out that for every first dose administered, the state’s health department automatically sends the second, so future doses will not be withheld from other people. (Moderna and Pfizer vaccines, the only two that have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration, require two doses for full protection.)
In Nashville, Tennessee, two Subway employees were vaccinated against COVID-19 last week when a nearby health facility vaccinating first responders was about to close for the day. One nurse noticed that there were two more doses and that no other first responder was scheduled or present, so another nurse brought the two people in, a local health official said TODAY.
Similar incidents have also taken place in long-term care facilities, in addition to hospitals and other health care facilities, a representative of the National Center for Assisted Living, an organization told TODAY in a statement. which represents providers of privacy support services.
What does this mean for the public?
MacMillan, who posted a video getting the shot on TikTok, said he had received comments telling him he “won the lottery” and others were stating their intention to wait in grocery stores around the corner. hope to have the same opportunity. But at this point, no state is vaccinating the general public, as priority is still given to health workers, people in long-term care facilities, the elderly and people with underlying health conditions. , depending on where you live.
If you are eligible at this point to receive the vaccine but are struggling to access it, make sure you are aware of and sign up for notification systems for additional doses, whether through your employer or your community. Elak said Middletown has developed such a system, and Dr Eric Cioe-Pena, an emergency physician at Northwell Health in New York City, said TODAY his hospital has one.
Parker and Howe both pointed out that when in a rush to dispense hundreds of doses in just a few hours, people quickly get back online if someone more in need shows up. And MacMillan had a similar mindset, he says.
“If (the pharmacist) hadn’t said, ‘Look, I only have 10 minutes,’ there might have been a point where I would have said, ‘Well, isn’t there- Isn’t there someone else who needs it more than me? ‘”MacMillan remembers.“ I thought to myself if I could show that I’m excited to have it, maybe other people will share. this enthusiasm and will be less suspicious, less hesitant. “