Minnesota pharmacists call attention to wasted vaccine as overfilled COVID-19 vaccine vials being thrown out

Alex Jokich
Updated: February 23, 2021 06:58 PM
Created: February 23, 2021 06:48 PM

Some pharmacists in Minnesota have noticed small amounts of COVID-19 vaccine leftover in vials after full doses of the shot have been given. Under federal regulations, those residual amounts have to be thrown away.

"We are seeing that on a regular basis, that there might be some remaining vaccine in the vials," said Lee Mork, director of pharmacy at Allina Health.
Mork said 0.3ml is considered a full dose of the Pfizer vaccine, but even after pulling the full six doses from a vial, he has noticed the vials are not always empty.
FDA policy does not allow for any remaining vaccine to be combined with another vial to create a new full dose, so they must be tossed out.

Mork noted, if vials from the same lot number could be pooled together in the appropriate timeframe, those extra doses of vaccine would add up.

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"If there's six or seven doses that might be combined at the end of the day, those are six or seven more people that might be protected from COVID," Mork said.
5 EYEWITNESS NEWS asked Gov. Tim Walz and Minnesota Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm if anything could be done differently to conserve vaccine.
"We will not waste vaccine. You're right, it is so precious, but on this one, this one is very clear. it is the law and there's reasons for doing it," Walz said.
"It's an important issue to address. Obviously, we want to use every bit of vaccine that we can," Malcolm added. "So it's a logical temptation to say, well why can't we just take a little bit left from here, little bit left from here. Very important infection control protocols and the fact that there are no preservatives in these two vaccines, so you can't hold it longer than six hours. You can't mix it and we do not consider that to be waste."

Mork agrees it is not normal protocol to combine vaccine vials, but he also believes these are not 'normal' times.
"If we were in a battlefield situation, we would conserve and combine blood products to serve a person that might need blood," Mork explained. "It seems like we're in a battle right now with COVID and during a pandemic, it seems like it might be an opportunity to look at that further to see if we can at least combine some vials." 

The Minnesota Department of Health told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS that out of 1,125,916 total doses received by the state, 278 have been thrown away, amounting to .024% of doses wasted. That includes 18 due to broken vials or syringes, 9 lost vaccines, 27 where a vial was opened but vaccine not administered, 68 vaccines drawn into syringes but not administered and 156 classified as 'other waste (non-returnable).'
Walz noted the state is 'going to great lengths’ not to waste full doses of vaccine.
MDH noted vaccinators have been very careful to use every bit of vaccine provided, often maintaining lists of eligible recipients who can be called in if there are extra doses.
However, any leftover partial doses must be thrown away, unless federal guidance changes.

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