(ABC4) — In the first week of January, Governor Spencer Cox introduced a rollout plan for distributing the COVID-19 vaccine to Utahns.
He stated that the changes would ensure that vaccines get to Uthans who need them and that “vaccines are not sitting on shelves.”
In terms of rollout, Gov. Cox said:
“Vaccines will be distributed within the week they are received. Organizations that fail to meet that goal will have their allocations reduced and extra doses will be taken and redistributed.”
This is an important step, as vaccines have an expiration date and only last so long after being thawed and opened. And with a limited number of vaccines available, every one counts.
ABC4 reached out to Dr. Russell Findlay, a pharmacist from University of Utah Health, who administers COVID-19 vaccines. He has administered the Pfizer vaccine.
He says that on the vial, the vaccine doesn’t expire until March or April of 2021. But after the vaccine is drawn up from the vial, it expires much quicker.
“We were given information from Pfizer that we have to discard any unused vaccine six hours after dilution. It has six hours stability,” he said. “We have really modeled our whole clinic operation surrounding that six-hour time mark, and we follow it to the minute. And so, when we’re in clinic, there’s this open line of communication between our scheduling folks and with our production team that is compounding the vials. We have to match supply and demand. I’m happy to say we’ve really dialed in the process to where we don’t waste any at all because we have a very clear idea of who’s scheduled and who’s coming in.”
This means that people can’t just wait around at the end of the day to see if there are any extra doses that need to be used up. According to Findlay, the clinic has a roster of individuals on stand-by just in case someone doesn’t come in for their vaccine appointment.
“We’ve really partnered with our support services and security team to prevent people from just hanging around and seeing if they can just grab an extra vaccine,” he says.
Findlay says he won’t even remove the vial to prepare the vaccine doses until five or six people are standing in line ready to receive it.
“That’s how dialed in we have the process to match dose to patient so we avoid those really awkward situations where people may just get lucky and get a does outside of their prioritization group,” he says. “We really try to avoid that situation.”
Similarly, Lance Madigan, spokesperson for Intermountain Healthcare, says all of the vaccines are very well accounted for. If someone misses a vaccine appointment, that dose of the vaccine will be given to caregivers employed at the hospital or medical center.
“If we come up to the end of the day and we have some extras, we’ve never had an issue of not being able to find someone who needs the vaccine,” he said.
ABC4 took a look at how long vaccines actually last before they can no longer be used.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, vials of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine that have not yet been punctured can be safely kept at between 46 degrees and 77 degrees for up to 12 hours. Vaccines cannot be rethawed.
Once the vial has been punctured, the vaccine can be kept between 36 degrees Fahrenheit and 77 degrees Fahrenheit for up to six hours. Any vaccines that were not used within that time must be discarded.
Vials of the vaccine can be stored for up to 30 days refrigerated unpunctured. Following 30 days, they must be discarded, according to the CDC.
The Pfizer-BioNTech Vaccine has similar instructions.
Vials can be kept at room temperature for two hours before mixing. However, after two hours, they must be returned to the refrigerator. Once the vaccine has been mixed, it must be used within six hours. All unused mixed vaccine must be discarded after that point.
“If used beyond that time stamp, we would not be able to certify the potency or efficacy of the product,” Dr. Findlay said.