A significant number of unused Johnson & Johnson vaccine doses are approaching their official expiration date, prompting questions from some about the US commitment to global vaccine fairness.
Hundreds of thousands – and possibly millions – of doses are at risk of being wasted, according to reports from NBC News and The Wall Street Journal.
More than 10 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine have been shipped to states but not yet administered, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It is not known how many of them may expire soon.
Andy Slavitt, a senior member of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, told a press conference on Tuesday that the number of shots at risk of expiration represents “a very small fraction of the doses that were sent to the States “.
The Food and Drug Administration is working to determine whether Johnson & Johnson’s injections are viable after their expiration date, according to Slavitt. Acting FDA Commissioner Dr Janet Woodcock told state officials on Tuesday to continue to store doses after they expire in case new data shows they are safe to use, according to Kaiser Health News .
The unintentional stockpile is believed to be due in part to the FDA’s decision to suspend distribution of the vaccine for several days in April while it investigates the risk of blood clotting. Concerns about the rare side effect have been exaggerated, but the hiatus has hurt public perception of the vaccine.
“Many of us warned that this was coming,” tweeted Dr Ashish Jha, dean of the School of Public Health at Brown University. “Maybe we can share with countries that could use vaccines now to save lives? “
Unlike Moderna and Pfizer vaccines, Johnson & Johnson’s are designed to require only one injection and can be stored at normal refrigeration temperatures for up to six months. The vaccine was recently approved for distribution in the UK.
Demand for vaccines has declined dramatically in the United States, where about 64% of American adults have received at least one injection. According to the CDC, the country currently vaccinates about 1 million people per week, up from a peak of 4.3 million people per week in April. The limited vaccine supply has resulted in slower deployment around the world, including in regions like India that have seen catastrophic peaks in cases.
Officials in some states, including Ohio, Pennsylvania, Arkansas and West Virginia, have reported that they have thousands of Johnson & Johnson vaccines in danger of expiring.
Ohio Governor Mike DeWine (right) said Monday his state had a surplus of around 200,000 unused doses of Johnson & Johnson set to expire on June 23.
“For those Ohioans who were waiting to get vaccinated, I urge you to act now. There are many opportunities statewide to get a vaccine, ”DeWine said in a statement. “The Johnson & Johnson vaccine is one of those options. It is safe and effective and only requires one shot. In just two weeks, you could be protected against this virus. “
In Arkansas, some 60,000 doses of the vaccine could be wasted by the end of the month. Pennsylvania has at least 50,000 doses to use in the same amount of time. West Virginia has launched a raffle to help use up its surplus.
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