Some vaccine wastage inevitable, HSE tells pharmacists

HSE responds to requests for surplus vaccines to be sent to countries in need

Unused Covid-19 vaccines in mass vaccination centres around the State will not be sent to countries in need, the Health Service Executive has told a group of pharmacists who complained about what they called “unnecessary wastage”.

Last week it emerged that the group of 16 had written to Taoiseach Micheál Martin and Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly warning that thousands of Covid-19 vaccines would not be used.

This was on foot of a request from the HSE that any unused or expired AstraZeneca or Janssen vaccines should be returned and could be removed from fridges rendering them unusable.

This was because the Janssen single-dose programme was nearing completion and the AstraZeneca second-dose vaccines were nearly all administered. The group asked that remaining vaccines be sent to either pharmacies or countries that have limited access to vaccines.


On Thursday, the HSE responded in a letter saying that a certain amount of unused stock will be inevitable.

The health service said that because the vaccines in community vaccination centres had “already been distributed from our central cold chain storage unit they would not be eligible for redistribution given the chain of custody (even if they are maintained in cold chain conditions) through the Covax programme or indeed probably through any future bi\lateral agreement with a third country”.

Expiry date

However, the HSE said there may be excess stock in the central cold chain unit at the end of the programme.

“We are working with Government departments to set up bilateral agreements with other countries taking into account the expiry date of these vaccines. Although the operational process is defined, there are legal, indemnity and regulatory issues which need to be agreed with any other countries before such transfers could take place.”

The health service said a temporary cessation of further AstraZenca and Janssen deliveries to Ireland was notified to the EU Vaccine Steering Group. “This ensures these vaccines are available for redistribution if required.”

The HSE told the pharmacists that any donations of vaccines would need to have the same quality standards as when the product was dispatched from the manufacturing plant.

“The expiry date may be shorter depending on the duration the product has been in Ireland.”

Officials have been working to determine how many leftover doses there will be in centres around the country. In the letter, the HSE said that “although it is regrettable that any vaccine is unused, it is important that individuals receive the recommended vaccines in line with current Department of Health policy, based on the recommendations of the National Immunisation Advisory Committee (Niac).

Unused stock

“The existence of unused vaccines is unfortunately a consequence where pack size is large and while policy is constantly changing.

“We continue to manage this to minimise unused stock but some unused stock is inevitable on a programme as complex as this.”

It came as Fine Gael MEP Seán Kelly called for the Department of Health to ensure that all excess supply of vaccines be sent to third countries to avoid unnecessary waste.

“The difficulties and worry caused by the new Delta variant are plain to see, yet we must not forget that there are many countries that do not have the same access to vaccines as we do.

“We therefore need to utilise every drop, and if we have oversupply, we must export the excess to help those in need. There is no sense in having a situation where vaccines are destroyed just because they were kept beyond their expiration dates.”

Meanwhile, the HSE letter stated: “From the administration records and vaccines delivered currently, the community vaccination centres received 80 per cent of total quantity of AstraZeneca Vaxzevria vaccine distributed, with 98 per cent of these delivered doses recorded as administered. Deliveries ended in early July.

“These vaccines will be administered until cohorts have been completed.

“Approximately 28 community vaccination centre received 29 per cent of total quantity of Janssen Covid-19 vaccines distributed, with 91 per cent of these delivered doses recorded as administered. Deliveries ended on June 1st .

“These vaccines will be administered until cohorts have been completed,” the letter stated.

“As the doses are packed in boxes of 50 or 100, the number of unopened boxes remaining in the community vaccination centres are as yet unknown.”

Jennifer Bray

Jennifer Bray

Jennifer Bray is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times