Jan 29, 2021 - News
How Tampa Bay is managing unused COVID vaccines
Illustration of a syringe returning vaccine to a vial.
Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

With so much anxiety surrounding how hard it is to get the coronavirus vaccine, a question has been lingering in many of our minds: What happens when people don't show up for their shots?

The big picture: A relatively small amount — 3,444 doses, or 0.1% of the 3 million vaccines the state has received — has been wasted.

  • The Florida Department of Health told the Tampa Bay Times those doses were broken or left unused after thawing.

So what's the plan for unused doses around Tampa Bay?

Manatee County director of public safety Jake Saur explained that, in his area, workers at drive-through vaccination sites count the vehicles in line toward the end of the day to know exactly how many doses to draw up.

  • Any unthawed leftovers get added to the next round of appointments.

No doses have been thrown away in Manatee, which saw 40 no-shows during the last round of appointments, Saur said. Ditto for Hillsborough, per county health department spokesman Kevin Watler. But the ability to quickly pivot is crucial.

  • Saving Pfizer vaccines, which expire faster once they're at room temperature, is a much higher stakes game than preserving Moderna doses, Saur said.
  • In situations where doses need to be used immediately, Saur said, first responders, like paramedic crews, have been called up quickly to use the end of that vial.
  • One day last month, Pfizer doses that were about to expire went to Greenbriar nursing home in Bradenton, Saur said. Those people will get their second doses today.

He acknowledged that using up leftover vaccines is "a problem all over the state."

At the end of the day, we’ve drawn up too many and we don’t want to throw them away, so we’ve gotta figure out what to do. Some try and hit up health care workers and some try to get people off the street. Then you’ve got to get them a second appointment. But no one wants to throw a vaccine away.

This story first appeared in the Axios Tampa Bay newsletter, designed to help readers get smarter, faster on the most consequential news unfolding in their own backyard.

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