Unused COVID-19 vaccines have experts concerned about lack of plan for reuse
Pharmacist, bioethicist disappointed Canada doesn't have a plan to share globally
An unknown amount of COVID-19 vaccines will expire in the coming days, and some pharmacists in Windsor-Essex are raising the alarm about the high level of waste.
LaSalle pharmacist and owner of Rob's Whole Health Pharmacy, Rob Modestino, said he has about 190 doses of the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine that are set to spoil at the end of August. He hasn't administered a dose of that vaccine in about three weeks.
"It's to the point now where if we do get one or two people, we end up using one dose out of a vial of 10 and have to throw that vial away after 48 hours just because there's no demand for it at all," he said.
Modestino said there's also a low uptake for people looking for a Moderna or Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine from local pharmacies.
"There's pharmacies right now who are pushing close to their 30-day limit where they would have to get rid of it and just throw them away."
It's a shame, there just doesn't seem to be a coherent plan here,- Kerry Bowman, bioethicist at the University of Toronto
While Windsor-Essex was once one of the leading health units in Ontario regarding COVID-19 vaccination rates, uptake has been lagging more recently.
As of data released Tuesday, 77.1 per cent of Windsor-Essex adults have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, and 67.2 per cent are fully vaccinated.
Since demand is shrinking, the medical officer of health for the region, Dr. Wajid Ahmed, said local health units work with Ontario's Ministry of Health and Long-term Care to order exactly how many vaccines they will need on a weekly basis.
But Ahmed too sees the need for a coherent plan for the unused and expiring doses — a number that's hard to pinpoint, but could be in the thousands.
"We were very very diligent about having any vaccine wastage," he said.
"There are some countries in the world that do not have any vaccines and it's a much bigger question of ethical health — how can we justify having all those vaccines when people are dying in other countries ..."
Ahmed said he and other medical officers of health in the province have expressed their concerns to the province, but that it's a bigger discussion than on a local level.
Where's the plan?
Meanwhile, Modestino said he's booking about 20 jabs each day at his local pharmacy, but is also concerned about what will happen to unused doses when those appointments slow down next week.
"I mean there's countries around the world that can't get them and we're sitting here wasting them," he said.
"I'd love to be able to take the 190 AstraZeneca I have and give them back to the ministry to give to another country before they expire at the end of August."
Kerry Bowman, a bioethicist at the University of Toronto, said Canada should have had a plan in place for the country's unused vaccines long before now.
"It's a shame, there just doesn't seem to be a coherent plan here," he said.
"The Delta variant is surging all over the world, and the vast majority in low income countries have had absolutely no access to any kind of vaccine. So it's horrible that this is happening."
In an emailed statement, the Windsor-Essex County Health Unit said it works closely with the province's mnistry of health to avoid wasting any supplies.
"Local vaccine supply and demand is routinely monitored and doses are re-allocated as quickly as possible to ensure vaccine wastage does not occur," a spokesperson wrote.
But Modestino said that the health unit has never contacted him about unused supply, and has been sitting on those 190 AstraZeneca doses for three weeks now.
Modestino also said that pharmacists were told by the ministry of health that if they send back any unused doses, they will no longer be able to get more supplies of any vaccine.
To this, WECHU said that when health-care providers or pharmacists receive vaccines directly from the ministry and are unable to use them before expiring, the health unit works "with all partners to reallocate the vaccines and minimize waste."
CBC News reached out to the Ministry of Health and Long-term Care and officials were not able to respond by time of publication.
With files from Kerri Breen, Amy Dodge