Up to 220,000 doses of Covid-19 booster vaccines may expire by end of month

Decreased demand after Christmas and high infection rate caused excess of supplies

The Health Service Executive says 400,000 to 500,000 doses are due to go out of date over the next two weeks. Photograph: iStock

The Health Service Executive says 400,000 to 500,000 doses are due to go out of date over the next two weeks. Photograph: iStock

 

Up to 220,000 doses of Covid-19 booster vaccines may expire by the end of the month unless the current rate of uptake increases.

The glut of supplies is the result of decreased demand after Christmas and a higher than expected number of infections, which makes people ineligible to receive a booster for three months.

The Health Service Executive says 400,000 to 500,000 doses are due to go out of date over the next two weeks. The Pfizer and Moderna doses were delivered to mass vaccination centres, community hospitals, GP surgeries and pharmacies late last year.

A spokesman said it was expected “a lot of these” doses will be used but acknowledged some supplies are likely to expire before they can be given to people. Out of date supplies will have to be destroyed.

About 120,000 boosters were administered last week and 200,000 the week before. If this rate was maintained over the coming fortnight, that would leave 120,000-220,000 doses unused before going out of date.

The HSE estimates more than 700,000 vaccinated people have yet to receive their booster, although about 140,000 of these are ineligible at present due to recent infection.

Next stage

It plans to renew appeals to all those eligible to come forward and take advantage of the availability of vaccines and boosters over the next couple of weeks, the spokesman said.

The next stage of the vaccine rollout, the administration of fourth doses to immunocompromised patients, is likely to make some additional inroads into supplies.

The National Immunisation Advisory Committee is expected to make a decision soon on booster doses for 12- to 15-year-olds. However, a five-month interval is expected to apply between completion of the primary vaccine and the delivery of a booster, so delivery of the extra shot to this group cannot start in earnest until February at the earliest.

A different dosage also applies to this age group compared with adults.

Dr Denis McCauley, chair of the GP committee of the Irish Medical Organisation, said family doctors have about 200,000 doses on hand and many “probably won’t be used”.

He said GPs had done all they could to ensure supplies were not wasted since vaccination started and “that’s the situation still”.

Dr McCauley said the reason stocks on hand were so high was because so many people got the Omicron variant of Covid-19 and also because of “some apathy” among under-25s.

While about 45 per cent of the population had received a booster, 75 per cent had either been boosted or got Omicron, so this left only a small proportion eligible.

He said the decision to provide many GPs with a month’s supply of boosters before Christmas was the right one, as it ensured the maximum number of people got boosted in time for the wave caused by Omicron. About 250,000 people received a booster from GPs in the four days before Christmas, he pointed out.

Dr McCauley also called for clarity on the issuing of certificates of recovery from the virus, which can be used as alternatives to the Covid-19 pass held by vaccinated people. A positive PCR test or professionally administered antigen test is required to obtain the certificate of recovery, but since last week the HSE stopped requiring a confirmatory PCR test where someone tests antigen positive.