500,000 vaccine doses in NC set to expire but health officials confident they won't be wasted

RALEIGH (WTVD) -- Though more than 500,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccines are set to expire at the end of the month, state health officials say programs in place and increasing vaccine demand could mean many of those doses won't go to waste.

According to data from North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, as of August 11, 510,553 doses of the Pfizer vaccine, 11,961 doses of the Moderna vaccine and 715 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine will expire by August 31.

"Demand has dropped off quite a bit so it can be challenging to know when we go to a vaccine event how many doses to anticipate that we're going to do that day," said Dr. Jennifer Green, health director for Cumberland County.

Locally, Durham County officials said 3,666 doses of Pfizer will expire on August 31, though they are confident all of those doses will be used or transferred before the expiration date.

Johnston County officials said they had just 570 doses of Pfizer that could expire at the end of the month on their shelves, but they also expected to use all of those doses.

As of August 2, the state said 51,750 doses had expired before use. But that's less than 1% of the more than 7.6 million total doses state providers have received.

State officials said unused vaccines could be transferred to federal retail partners. Green added that vaccine providers can also share unused vaccines amongst themselves, sending the vials to counties and clinics where need is higher.

"So we're sharing much more than we were right across the state, so that we can share with partners and not have to order more, and therefore waste more vaccine," Green said.

State health officials also said some of the vaccine manufacturers may extend the shelf-life of some of the vaccines, particularly the Pfizer vaccine. Recently, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine shelf life was extended for another six weeks.

Green clarified this is normal and expected when it comes to medical expiration dates, which she said are usually cautious.

"They might give us a particular expiration date knowing that there is actually some wiggle room on the back end of that," Green said. "Just like our food that we use at home. I think about it like that in some ways, or our milk, that they have expiration dates, but there might be some extenuating circumstances in which we can still use the vaccine and if it's viable and it is a good vaccine, it's still safe to use."

On the bright side, Green said her department has seen an uptick in demand for vaccine, meaning fewer doses could go to waste.

"I think that's partly because our college students are coming back to campus, our kids are going back to K through 12 schools," Green said. "There's this greater demand and sense of urgency."

She also said the Delta variant is pushing more people to roll up their sleeves.

Green and other health leaders emphasized the importance of getting vaccinated as soon as possible. For a list of provider locations in North Carolina, click here.
Copyright © 2021 WTVD-TV. All Rights Reserved.