Oklahoma has thrown away nearly 900,000 unused and expired doses of the COVID-19 vaccines in the past 10 months.
The vaccines were provided to the state at no cost, but as appointment slots went unfilled and demand decreased for the vaccines, many potential shots were thrown away according to records provided by the Oklahoma State Department of Health.
“Vaccines have a shelf life,” Dr. Fauzia Khan, Director of OSDH Immunization Service, said.
Khan said each of the three COVID-19 vaccines have specific instructions for use which include how long a vaccine can be kept at room temperature after a vial is opened. A vial contains several doses of the vaccine.
For example, after the first dose of Johnson and Johnson has been withdrawn, the vial is to be held between 36° to 46°F for up to six hours or at room temperature for up to two hours. Moderna vaccines need to be discarded 12 hours after the vial is opened/punctured. After dilution, the Pfizer vaccine needs to be used within six hours.
At the start of the nationwide vaccine campaign, there were discussions over how to get the most doses out of each vial when supplies were low, but demand was high for the vaccine.
As of the writing of this article, the OSDH reported 892,027 vaccine doses have been thrown away by providers. Vaccines produced by Pfizer make up more than half the tossed vaccine doses.
Demand decreased as opposition to vaccines and the concern over federal mandates sparked concerns from many Oklahomans.
Governor Kevin Stitt, in a Facebook video announcing his opposition to the federal vaccine mandate, said more than 71-percent of Oklahomans over the age of 18 have received a COVID-19 vaccine.
“Among our most vulnerable population, Oklahomans 65 and older, 93 percent have made the decision to receive the vaccine,” Stitt said. “We know the COVID vaccine is our best defense against severe illness.”
Stitt opposes the federal vaccine mandate and said vaccines should be a personal choice. He reiterated that it was his choice to get the vaccine himself after speaking with his doctor. Stitt received the Johnson and Johnson vaccine in March in front of cameras and reporters. At the event, members of the media who were unvaccinated were given the opportunity to be vaccinated as well because of the concern of wasting an open and thawed vaccine vial.
Vaccines will continue to go unused in Oklahoma and around the country.
“Vaccination is our strongest defense against COVID-19, so vaccinating the unvaccinated is the highest priority,” Khan said. “That being said, the instructions from the federal government are clear – open a vial if even for the administration of a single dose. Potentially saving a life is worth more than a wasted vaccine.”
Khan said Immunization Service has enrolled 1881 Pandemic Providers across the State to administer COVID vaccines. In an effort to reach the unvaccinated and reduce barriers to vaccine access, mobile clinics and caring vans are also part of the vaccination efforts, she said.
“Public health is everyone’s responsibility,” Khan said, “The community can support our immunization efforts by educating their family and friends on the importance of immunization, now more than ever.
For more information, community members can visit the Oklahoma State Department of Health website.