Health care professionals warn of vaccines going waste due to expiry 

They call for administering booster dose to frontline workers and those at higher risk

November 24, 2021 09:04 pm | Updated 09:04 pm IST - NEW DELHI

Health workers during a door-to-door vaccination drive in Siliguri.

Health workers during a door-to-door vaccination drive in Siliguri.

States including Gujarat and Jharkhand and some others may be heading towards an inevitable COVID vaccination waste in the private health care sector due to expiry, according to Girdhar Gyani, Director General of the Association of Healthcare Providers (India). As per their survey, the situation could arise as early as December if a mechanism to remedy this was not immediately put in place.

“This is happening in the private health care sector. We are getting news from other parts of the country also about vaccine stocks nearing expiry date. The Health Ministry has given us this understanding that they may export the excess stock to prevent waste. We have approached the Ministry asking it to direct manufactures to take back the excess stock and also look into making booster dose available for health care workers who were vaccinated early this year,” he said.

According to the Health Ministry, India has more than 21.65 crore balance and unutilised vaccine doses with States/Union Territories.

Shelf life extended

Earlier, the Central Drugs Standard Control Organisation (CDSCO) has agreed to extend Covaxin’s shelf life to 12 months from the manufacturing date. The existing shelf life is nine months, same as Covishield. Covishield also had its shelf life increased from six to nine months.

Harsh Mahajan, president, NATHEALTH, a healthcare body which raises issues on access and quality of healthcare, said it was presumed that there was unused stock of between five and 10 million doses in the private sector. This stock would possibly start expiring from 2022 January to February.

Dr. Mahajan added that in case the expert committee of the Government decided that a booster dose was necessary, then this stock could be used for boosters for healthcare and frontline workers and those who were at higher risk despite having received two doses.

“The objective should be to minimise wastage of this precious resource,” he said.

Bishnu Panigrahi, group head, Medical Strategy and Operations, Fortis Healthcare, said that while his hospital continued to administer vaccines across all its centres in India, the daily footfalls were low.

“So looking at this, we are ordering in a prudent manner, so that we are never overstocked. We are reviewing our vaccine stocks on regular basis. We are also actively reaching out to people to take their second dose,” he said.

Stating that it was important to coordinate the production, storage, cold chain and distribution of vaccines, Rajeev Jayadevan, member, national Indian Medical Association task force on IMA coronavirus and deputy medical director of Sunrise Hospitals, Kochi said any imbalance in this process could lead to wastage.

‘Learn from mistakes’

“Recently the U.K. threw away 6,00,000 doses of the Astrazeneca vaccine. Vaccine vials sitting in the fridge are of no value. We must remember that until they are delivered in the arm, vaccines do not provide any protection. We must learn from such mistakes, and avoid wastage of this precious resource — particularly as hundreds of millions of people around the world are still waiting to receive their first dose,” he said.

Dr. Jayadevan added that it was India’s priority to vaccinate the remaining 170 million adults who were yet to receive their first dose.

Calling it a critical step to reduce the mortality, he said India must also consider giving a third dose to people who had compromised immune systems and those who worked in high viral load settings, especially those healthcare workers who were older with co-morbidities, to reduce their short term risk of catching infection.

Echoing his support for booster dose Anoop Misra, executive chairman, Fortis C-DOC Hospital for Diabetes and Allied Sciences, tweeted that while the Government was yet to clear the booster dose — a recent study done at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences has said that Covaxin protection against delta is only 50%. “Most healthcare workers have taken vaccine 9-10 months back. Immunity wanes over time. While research must go on, booster doses for immunocompromised (proven) and frontline workers must be considered,” Dr. Misra tweeted.

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