A significant number of unused Johnson & Johnson vaccine doses are creeping closer to their official expiration dates, prompting questions from some about the United States’ commitment to global vaccine equity.
Hundreds of thousands ― and possibly millions ― of doses are at risk of going to waste, according to reports from NBC News and The Wall Street Journal.
More than 10 million Johnson & Johnson vaccine doses have been delivered to states but not yet administered, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It is not clear how many of those may soon expire.
Andy Slavitt, a lead member of the White House’s coronavirus task force, said Tuesday at a news conference that the number of shots at risk of expiration represents “a very small fraction of doses that have been sent out to states.”
The Food and Drug Administration is working to determine whether the Johnson & Johnson shots are viable past their expiry date, according to Slavitt. The acting commissioner of the FDA, Dr. Janet Woodcock, told state officials on a call Tuesday to keep storing doses past their expiration in case new data shows they are safe to use, per Kaiser Health News.
The unintended stockpile is believed to be due in some part to the FDA’s decision to pause distribution of the vaccine for several days in April while it investigated the risk of blood-clotting. Concerns about the rare side effect were overblown, but the pause hurt public perception of the vaccine.
“Many of us have been warning this was coming,” tweeted Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of Brown University’s School of Public Health. “Maybe we can share with countries that could use vaccines now to save lives?”
Unlike the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines, Johnson & Johnson’s is designed to only require one shot, and it can be stored at normal refrigeration temperatures for up to six months. The vaccine was recently approved to be distributed in the United Kingdom.
Demand for vaccines has dropped drastically around the U.S., where about 64% of U.S. adults have gotten at least one shot. According to the CDC, the nation is currently vaccinating about 1 million people per week, down from an April high of 4.3 million people per week. Limited vaccine supply has led to a slower rollout around the world, including in areas such as India that have seen catastrophic spikes in cases.
Officials in some states, including Ohio, Pennsylvania, Arkansas and West Virginia, have reported that they have thousands of Johnson & Johnson shots at risk of expiration.
Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine (R) said Monday that his state had a surplus of about 200,000 unused Johnson & Johnson doses set to expire on June 23.
“For Ohioans who have been waiting to get their vaccine, I urge you to take action now. There are many opportunities throughout the state to get a vaccine,” DeWine said in a statement. “The Johnson & Johnson vaccine is one of those options. It is safe and effective and only requires one shot. In just two weeks, you could be protected from this virus.”
In Arkansas, some 60,000 doses of the vaccine could go to waste by the end of the month. Pennsylvania has at least 50,000 doses to use in the same time frame. West Virginia launched a sweepstakes to help use up its surplus.
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