The Irish Times view on surplus vaccines: doses going to waste

Contingency planning is needed in case supply exceeds demand in coming weeks

 Indian students wait for their turn to get a Covid-19 vaccine shot at Chogle High School in Borivali, in Mumbai, on Monday. Photograph: Divyakant Solanki/ EPA

Indian students wait for their turn to get a Covid-19 vaccine shot at Chogle High School in Borivali, in Mumbai, on Monday. Photograph: Divyakant Solanki/ EPA

 

The possibility that up to 220,000 doses of Covid-19 booster vaccines may expire by the end of the month should prompt a step-change in the vaccination campaign. Major strides have been made in the booster rollout over the past two months, with 45 per cent of the population now having received the top-up shot – one of the highest rates in the European Union. The figure would be higher were it not for the fact that so many contracted the virus during the current Omicron wave, making them currently ineligible for the booster.

The resulting drop in demand means that, on current take-up trends, and with 400,000-500,000 doses due to expire by the end of January, up to 220,000 may have to be destroyed within weeks. Many countries have dealt with similar situations. In some cases a lack of demand caused doses to expire; at least 15 million doses were scrapped in the United States between March and September last year, according to an official count.

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We have seen from previous restrictions on the unvaccinated that making life difficult for the hold-outs is also highly effective

Other countries, in the developing world in particular, have seen doses go to waste because they did not have the capacity to manage the shots, some of which come with a short shelf-life. Last month it was reported that up to one million shots were dumped in Nigeria after they arrived within four-to-six weeks of expiry and could not be used in time, despite efforts by health authorities.

It’s essential, given the shortages still felt by many countries, that wastage be kept to a minimum. That makes it important for the Government to prepare contingency plans in the event that supply outstrips demand. But it also reinforces the need to get more people to take up the booster.

That can be done partly through persuasion and promotion, but we have seen from previous restrictions on the unvaccinated that making life difficult for the hold-outs is also highly effective. When restrictions begin to be eased in the coming weeks, there will be a strong argument for retaining the Covid cert – with a booster requirement – for some time to come.

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