Nurses working at vaccination centers in Victoria have reported that dozens of doses of Pfizer vaccine have been wasted as the state grapples with supply shortages, while clinics struggle to use up their doses of AstraZeneca vaccine.
The Australian Vaccination Technical Advisory Group (Atagi) last week updated its advice that anyone aged 60 and under should receive Pfizer vaccine in preference to AstraZeneca vaccine once they meet the criteria for eligibility.
The Victorian government on Friday sent a request to Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt asking for more doses of Pfizer due to supply issues in the state.
But a nurse told Guardian Australia that one of Victoria’s high-volume Covid vaccination centers needs to get rid of 30 doses of Pfizer in one day.
“People don’t show up for Pfizer appointments anymore, and although no one really knows all the reasons, the reservation system is hopeless,” she said.
“One of the doctors told me he thought people made multiple reservations at multiple sites. it also happens [elsewhere] , the appointments not being respected.
She said that in general, centers were “extremely careful and diligent” not to waste vaccines, but no-shows, reduced appointments and advice that people shouldn’t be wasted. receiving mixed doses had made it difficult to ensure that each dose was used up to the end. of the day.
“They also try to keep enough Pfizer for people’s second doses, but if those people don’t come and their vaccines have already been taken or taken out of the freezer, they should be used that day or thrown away,” a- she declared.
“It’s very frustrating and the doctors and nurses feel there must be a public education campaign on why it is so important to stick to your appointment.
The Victoria Department of Health and Human Services said the Vaccine Control Center “has no record of wasted Pfizer doses” on the dates the nurse said the wastage had occurred.
“The reservation system only allows people to make a second appointment after taking their first dose,” said a statement from the department.
A spokesperson for the department said: “If people cannot attend a date they have booked, we urge them to cancel or change that booking as soon as possible so that another Victorian can be made. vaccinate. “
St Vincent Hospital, which operates the Royal Exhibition Building hub, and Royal Melbourne Hospital, which operates the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Center hub, each said no Pfizer waste has occurred at their sites.
“There have been a handful of no-shows, but the team is working on a ‘made-to-order’ system that allows for zero waste,” said a spokeswoman for Royal Melbourne.
A doctor working at a Melbourne vaccination center said waste was occurring, although it wasn’t because people were making multiple appointments – they just weren’t showing up for their first. It was not clear why they weren’t showing up, he said.
“Another factor here is that the Pfizer vaccine has a very specific set of requirements regarding storage and when to use after preparation,” he said. “So there could be cases where a planned number of vaccine doses are prepared but slightly less than expected, which again leads to remaining doses. “
But clinics have tried to make sure doses aren’t wasted, he said.
On Thursday, Hunt said the government had been told by Pfizer that it would have access to 2.8 million doses during the month of July, “which is more than we previously reported.”
“Previously, we expected 600,000,” he said. “We also asked that anything that can be put forward should be. “
Dr Catherine Orr, a GP working at Star Health and Prahran Town Hall in Melbourne, said fewer people were attending their first dose of AstraZeneca vaccine since Atagi changed his advice. As patients returned for their second dose of AstraZeneca, “the first doses are dropping a lot,” she said.
As a result, the clinic would vaccinate anyone under the age of 60 who was eligible for a vaccine provided they had an informed consent discussion with a doctor. Orr said it helped avoid waste.
“We have 2,000 doses of AstraZeneca per [five-day] week and use about 300 a day, ”she said. “But they are not wasted yet because they do not expire for a few months. We only draw what we use.
Australian Medical Association chief Dr Omar Khorshid said the priority should be to get second doses for people who have had their first jab of AstraZeneca, but “we’re going to get to the point where we have an excess of AstraZeneca, and it cannot be allowed to expire in refrigerators and never be given to anyone ”.
There must be a plan to give this surplus vaccine to vulnerable countries, he said.
In the meantime, he said he was comfortable with people under the age of 60 calling clinics and general medicine centers to see if they could get the dose of AstraZeneca while they were taken. through the risks. He said during his talk on ABC youth radio station Triple J about the Atagi decision, many young people called the station saying they would be happy to receive the vaccine anyway.
“They understand the risk but they just want to be protected,” Khorshid said. “I’m very comfortable with people making an informed decision as long as they understand the science and understand what Atagi said in terms of recommendations.
“Vaccines are better in guns than in refrigerators, that’s for sure.”