Summit County officials work to minimize waste in COVID-19 vaccine distribution
For those who are in charge of Summit County’s vaccine distribution, each drop within a Pfizer or Moderna vial is “liquid gold.”
“Our philosophy is we are not going to waste a single dose,” St. Anthony Summit Medical Center CEO Lee Boyles said.
While it might sound simple, avoiding vaccine waste is easier said than done. Once a vial is punctured, the vaccines have only hours before they go bad: four hours for Pfizer and six hours for Moderna.
When the county and health systems receive information about the number of vaccines they will be allocated in a given week, they schedule appointments based on that number. However, sometimes there will be more doses than expected in a vial.
Each Pfizer vial is supposed to have five doses. However, officials have come across vials with enough for six doses. The same thing happens with Moderna, which is supposed to have 10 doses but sometimes end up with 11.
Despite the logistic puzzle, officials have managed to waste few doses. Summit County Nurse Manager Sara Lopez said she is aware of only two doses that have been wasted at the county’s drive-thru events. In one instance, a vial fell on the floor, rendering it unsafe to use. In another, the needle punctured a person’s arm before the vaccine was able to be fully administered.
To avoid wasting doses, public health, the hospital and local pharmacy providers have been turning to a waitlist when extra doses are left in a vial. Boyles said the waitlist the hospital uses comprises people who have signed up to get an appointment but missed the cutoff for that particular week.
“We try to coordinate our clinics for whatever (the vaccine allocation) is,” Boyles said. “So if it’s a Moderna clinic that day, and we know there’s 10 doses in a vial, we schedule 10 people. Then we know we have our waitlist handy because there may be instances of no-shows. Or there may be somebody who is in line for their second dose and a family emergency comes up.”
Boyles added that there are instances in which there is vaccine left in a vial but not enough for a full dose. In those cases, what’s left in the vial is thrown out because the hospital is not allowed to combine leftover vaccine from seperate vials to create a full dose. Overall, the hospital hasn’t wasted a single dose, he said.
Other vaccine providers also have found ways to prevent doses from going to waste. At a vaccine drive-thru Jan. 24, public health officials were able to administer the first dose of the vaccine to firefighters who weren’t initially scheduled for the event, Public Heath Director Amy Wineland said at a Summit County Board of Health meeting Thursday, Jan. 28.
At the City Market and Safeway pharmacies, if they’re unable to find a person to fulfill an appointment, they might look to individuals in the store who meet vaccine qualifications, Wineland said.
“We don’t want (doses) to go to waste, so I know from the pharmacies, for example, once they get down (their list) and they have no-shows, they absolutely do not want to waste that dose,” she said. “So they will find maybe an employee in the store who meets that criteria.”
Wineland added that the ultimate goal is to make sure that doses are being given to people who meet the criteria. Until Monday, Feb. 8, only people who are 70 and older, health care workers and first responders are eligible.
On Monday, educators, child care workers and people ages 65 and older will be eligible, as well.
The knowledge that officials are occasionally administering leftover doses doesn’t mean that people should attend vaccine clinics without an appointment in hopes of getting a shot, however. Extra doses are pretty rare and officials don’t want loiterers crowding the vaccine distribution areas.
“We don’t want to encourage loiterers,” Wineland said. “We’re going to try our best to give it to those who are eligible, and we don’t want to waste a dose.”
At the meeting, Assistant County Manager Sarah Vaine echoed that people shouldn’t expect to get a vaccine by showing up to a distribution event, especially if they don’t fall within the eligible groups.
“There is a small percentage of people who come in hoping that they can sneak through,” Vaine said. “I would say, from my perception of working the (event) twice now, is that it’s very well-organized, and people are not showing up and being unreasonable or, that I can tell, outright lying.”
The following links have information about how to schedule a coronavirus vaccination appointment across the state:
• Summit County vaccines: SummitCountyCo.gov/vaccine
• Centura vaccine appointments: Centura.org/covid-19/covid-19-vaccine-information
• List of vaccination providers across Colorado: CoCOVIDVaccine.org
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