Ontario pharmacists warn thousands of Moderna doses are set to expire

Pharmacists say part of the problem is the public's preference for the Pfizer jab

The clock is ticking on thousands of doses of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine.

Ontario pharmacists say the doses are set to expire soon and if people don’t show up to get a shot, they warn the supply could go to waste.

Justin Bates, CEO of the Ontario Pharmacists Association, said supply that arrives in bulk must be used up within 30 days and some Moderna shots are to expire in early August.

Bates said a slowdown in Ontario’s vaccine rollout and the public’s preference for the Pfizer-BioNTech shot have made it difficult for pharmacists to use up the Moderna doses.

“It’s an awful situation for them (pharmacists) to be in,” Bates told the Canadian Press (CP). “They’ve done everything they can to make sure there’s no wastage, but yet they’re coming to that place where they may have to, or have already.”

The Middlesex-London Health Unit recently issued a call for residents to take the Moderna vaccine because it had thawed more than 21,300 doses of the shot that need to be used by Aug. 12.

Bates told CP that pharmacies are now ordering vaccines based on scheduled appointments to cut down on possible waste, but added they still need to use the supply they have on hand.

“The next couple of weeks (are) critical,” he said. “It’s complicated because you have any number of scenarios that could waste the vaccine.”

Another challenge for pharmacists, said Bates, is the difficulty for pharmacists to use up the larger dose quantities that come in Moderna vials currently being supplied in Ontario.

Vials include enough vaccine for 14 shots and once a vial is punctured, all the vaccines must be used within 12 hours. If a patient cancels their appointment for a Moderna shot, it can’t be filled by the end of the day, said Bates.

A spokeswoman for the health minister told CP the province is working with the Middlesex-London Health Unit to help reallocate doses to areas of need.

“Public health units are working to keep vaccine wastage to a minimum and are encouraging walk-ins where appropriate,” Alexandra Hilkene said.

“We are also working with federal partners to explore vaccine donation opportunities in the future.”

Bates said his organization wants a province-wide program to help redirect doses at risk of being wasted to another site more likely to use them, though he noted that process would be complicated.

Meanwhile, the federal government is expected to receive 2.3 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine this week.

Ottawa has already received more than 66 million COVID-19 vaccine doses, more than enough to fully immunize all eligible Canadians.