Turns Out We Have A Lot More Doses of Pfizer's Vaccine Than We Thought

Some vials of Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine are carrying extra doses.
December 17, 2020, 2:34pm
Michael Moore, a registered nurse with the Mississippi State Department of Health immunization program, holds an empty vial of the first round of the Pfizer COVID vaccination, that was injected into the arm of one of the state medical leaders, Wednesday,
Michael Moore, a registered nurse with the Mississippi State Department of Health immunization program, holds an empty vial of the first round of the Pfizer COVID vaccination, that was injected into the arm of one of the state medical leaders, Wednesday, Dec. 16, 2020, in Ridgeland, Miss. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

Some vials of Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine are carrying extra doses, and the Food and Drug Administration has told health care providers to use them for the time being, potentially giving the U.S. millions more doses at a time when demand is high and supply is scarce. 

Though the vials that the vaccines come in are supposed to contain five doses, pharmacists have discovered that there’s enough for a sixth or even seventh shot in each vial, Politico reported Wednesday. It’s estimated that hundreds of doses have been thrown away since Monday; one hospital executive in New York told the New York Times that between 15 and 20 doses were thrown out in his hospital alone. 

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The FDA tweeted Wednesday that it’s “working with Pfizer to determine the best path forward,” but the agency went on to say that for the time being “it is acceptable to use every full dose obtainable (the sixth, or possibly even a seventh) from each vial, pending resolution of the issue.”

Vaccine vials are usually filled with some extra vaccine to account for spillage, but it’s considered rare for there to be enough for an entire new dose, University of Utah pharmacist Dr. Erin Fox told the New York Times.

“They initially thought that they had incorrectly done it because there was so much left in the vial after they pulled up the five doses,” Fox said of pharmacists on her staff. “They sent us a picture and were like, ‘Can we use the extra?’”

The potential for millions of extra doses couldn’t come at a better time as the vaccine continues to be rolled out this week, mostly to frontline healthcare workers and residents of long-term care facilities. Some states have been informed that they won’t receive as many doses of the virus in the initial supply that they were told. 

“It appears our allocation may be reduced by as much as 30 percent; however, we are working to gain confirmation and additional details from our federal partners,” the Iowa Department of Public Health said in a Wednesday statement. The state was initially told that up to 172,000 doses would be delivered by the end of December, meaning Iowa could receive 50,000 doses fewer than expected in that time period, according to the Des Moines Register

The news is also welcome at a time when it’s unclear when Pfizer will be able to deliver another round of vaccines, after the Trump administration passed last summer on the chance to buy extra 100 million to 500 million doses. So far, the government has only purchased enough doses to vaccinate 50 million people, though administration officials said Wednesday that they’re negotiating with Pfizer to buy more of the vaccine.

An FDA advisory panel will vote Thursday on whether to approve the vaccine produced by Moderna for emergency use. Data from a large-scale safety and efficacy trial for Moderna’s vaccine has shown it to be more than 94 percent effective, documents released by the FDA show