Expired AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccines given to 10 customers at Burnaby pharmacy
Effects of using vaccine after expiry date are unknown
It was a relief when 65-year-old Vicente Casas got the call that his turn was up to receive a COVID-19 vaccine on April 5.
As a janitorial employee with WorkSafeBC, he doesn't have the luxury of working from home to avoid infection.
"He really wanted to have that vaccine because he wanted to have some sort of protection, because we have lost relatives and friends to COVID," his wife Marie Casas explained.
The New Westminster, B.C., man's relief quickly turned to fear and anxiety when the Save-On-Foods pharmacy that had administered the AstraZeneca-Oxford shot called back the next day to tell him the vaccine he'd received was expired.
The shot was part of a batch of AstraZeneca doses purchased by the federal government that arrived in Canada in early March and had expiry dates of April 2, three days before Vicente Casas was vaccinated.
"Why would they let something like that happen?" said Marie Casas. "Let something expire instead of administering it to somebody who really needs it?"
In a statement emailed to CBC News, a Save-On-Foods spokesperson confirmed that 10 customers at its Burnaby location on Kingsway were vaccinated on April 5 with AstraZeneca doses that had an expiry date of April 2.
"As soon as we discovered the error, we immediately began contacting the impacted clients and making the appropriate disclosures and reports to the professional bodies," reads the statement.
The company apologized to customers and says it's taken steps to make sure the mistake doesn't happen again.
"We understand that the concern with receiving an expired vaccine is the relative effectiveness of the vaccine and we have contacted the medical health officer and followed their guidance on how to continue vaccination of these customers so they are protected from COVID-19."
The provincial Ministry of Health said in a statement Thursday that when expired vaccines are administered "in general, those who receive an expired vaccine should be advised, and recommended revaccination."
It also says the expired products should then be sequestered in the refrigerator and returned to public health for safe disposal.
A video meant for training purposes on the B.C. Centre for Disease Control's website says "expired vaccine is wasted." Other BCCDC and Health Canada documentation on the AstraZeneca vaccine indicate that it should be used before the expiration date, but they do not mention potential risks or side effects of receiving an expired shot.
Concerns about efficacy of expired vaccine
Last week, the B.C. government made a last-minute announcement that it would be enlisting 150 pharmacies in the Lower Mainland to administer over 46,000 doses of AstraZeneca vaccine. Several pharmacies booked all their vaccine appointments within hours of the news becoming public.
AstraZeneca says the latest analysis of its major U.S. trial shows its COVID-19 vaccine had a 76 per cent efficacy rate at preventing symptomatic illness.
Marie Casas wonders whether that efficacy rate has dropped for the expired dose her husband received.
"If it's already expired, what's the guarantee?"
Three shots of vaccine
Vicente Casas was told he'll get another shot 28 days after he received the first expired dose. After that, he'll wait four months before getting a final shot — the timeline between first and second doses approved by Health Canada.
His wife says she's concerned about the change in protocol for her husband's vaccine, especially after Canadian health officials paused the use of AstraZeneca in people under the age of 55.
"How would you feel safe to have three vaccine shots [...] when all the negative news reports about the vaccine is coming out?" she said.
In fewer than 30 cases among tens of millions of vaccines administered in Europe, people have developed serious blood clots after receiving an AstraZeneca-Oxford COVID-19 shot.
So far, Vicente Casas hasn't noted any side effects from the AstraZeneca shot.
Marie Casas says she called a regional manager for Save-On-Foods to get an explanation and was told that medications don't expire overnight and there is a certain "leeway."
"But this is different. This is the COVID vaccine," said Casas. "We don't even know what's going to happen in the future with what the long-term side effects will be."