The inside of the Campbell River Community Centre gymnasium has been marked off in order to facilitate the public flowing through the clinic as they receive their COVID-19 vaccination. Photo by Alistair Taylor – Campbell river Mirror

Leftover vaccines go into arms, not down the drain: Island Health

Immunization plan comes with built-in options for any unused vaccines at the end of the day

No unused COVID-19 vaccines are going to waste at the end of the day at Vancouver Island vaccination clinics, according to Dr. Michael Benusic the physician lead for mass immunization planning for Island Health.

Benusic gave that firm reassurance after being informed of rumours circulating that unused vaccines at the end of the day were being thrown out.

“That’s pretty much getting it exactly opposite in terms of what happens with the doses that are left over,” Dr. Benusic said. “The primary objective we have with doses that are left over at the end of the day is to minimize vaccine wastage as much as possible. We know how precious every drop of vaccine is.”

Vaccines are administered under the province’s vaccination protocol. Getting an appointment is a crucial factor in the daily rollout of vaccine doses. Every one is spoken for but if, at the end of the day, there is a dose leftover, there is a plan in place to give it to somebody else.

RELATED: Campbell River Community Centre gym converted to COVID-19 vaccination clinic

Two objectives guide what happens with leftover doses, Dr. Benusic said. The first is to minimize vaccine wastage as much as possible and the second is to provide it to people who are currently eligible in the phase of the provincial rollout, of which we are now in Phase 3.

“The vast majority of times, we meet both of those goals,” he said, “that we ensure that vaccine’s not wasted and we provide to people who are within the population who’s eligible.”

Each vaccination site has a long list of who those eligible populations are and how to get ahold of them. For example, paramedics have a dispatch and there is an opportunity to make sure if there is, for example, people who are understaffed in long-term care, they can come in and get a vaccination in their place.

The process also involves going to VIHA’s call centre and even to Dr. Benusic if there are any concerns and if they can’t find someone at the last-minute.

“There’s times when, if they absolutely cannot find anyone who is on that current priority list…we would stick to our objectives – with the primary objective being to minimize vaccine wastage – to provide it to someone who may be on the cusp of eligibility,” Benusic said. “So,you know, instead of being right now…the 70-year-olds can book it, so we pick up a 69-year-old.

“Sometimes we do move out of that because, again, we’d rather have a vaccine in a 69-year-old’s arm than a vaccine down the drain.”

Benusic said they’re very careful to ensure they don’t have vaccines left over because the issue with the vaccines is they have a very short shelf life. Once a vial is cracked open it has to be used before the morning.

Dr. Benusic also cautioned people to not show up to clinics at the end of the day hoping to get a surplus vaccine because “they are few and far between” because they really try to make sure if they’re going to open a vial, they have enough people for it.

Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry affirmed that thought in her April 8 provincial media briefing.

“Don’t line up unless you have been asked to come,” she said in response to a media question about “vaccine hunters” who travel the Lower Mainland looking for clinics with leftover doses. “There is a plan on a daily basis.”

RELATED: Don’t line up for vaccines unless asked to come, Dr. Bonnie Henry warns

One of the plans Dr. Henry mentioned is to take any “end of day” doses to hospital emergency departments.

Dr. Benusic reaffirmed the concept that there is a plan in place to ensure there are no leftovers and, if there are, to get them to next person in line, in terms of eligibility.

For more news from Vancouver Island and beyond delivered daily into your inbox, please click here.

RELATED: WHO chief describes ‘shocking’ vaccine imbalance between nations


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