An informal survey shows that at least one million doses of Canada’s COVID-19 vaccine have been wasted.
Canadian Press asked health ministries across the country to provide how many doses needed to be disposed of because they had expired or for other reasons.
Not everyone was able to respond before the deadline. Some jurisdictions, including Yukon and Prince Edward Island, only provided the number of overdue doses. Ontario declined to provide information.
The survey suggests that at least 1,016,669 doses have been rejected since the vaccines arrived last December. That’s about 2.6 percent of all supply delivered to the provinces and territories that provided their number.
Unused doses vary greatly in Canada. Alberta reported eliminating 10 percent of its doses; Nova Scotia 0.3 percent.
Some waste is to be expected, but Canada should strive to get as little as possible, said Dr. Ross Upshur of Toronto’s Dalla Lana School of Public Health and co-chair of the World Organization’s COVID-19 ethics task force. health.
It is difficult to know whether Canada is meeting that goal due to poor data sharing and a lack of transparency, Upshur said.
“Some of that waste could be due to cold chain breaks (some vaccines need to be kept at low temperatures), but some might not be in arms before the vaccine expires. It is a complex, complex, complex issue,” Upshur said. .
The provinces gave various reasons for the wasted doses. They included dropped vials or syringes, defective or damaged syringes, poor dose delivery, and overdue doses. Many were unable to provide a full breakdown.
Without complete data, it is difficult to know whether Canada’s vaccine supply is being managed effectively, Upshur said. For example, only some provinces could provide the number of expired doses.
Canada Has Discarded At Least One Million Doses Of COVID-19 Vaccine: # COVID19 Survey #CDNPoli
In those provinces and territories, about 0.45 percent of their vaccines had to be discarded due to an expiration date – about 120,578 doses.
“From a basic ethical principle, you want to be efficient, not waste, not wanting,” Upshur said. “But we also know from decades and decades of vaccine program delivery that waste is a reality.
“A million doses seems like a lot … but then you have to ask yourself what the factors were when they broke down (what) led to the waste of the vaccines.”
A spokesperson for the Nunavut Health Department explained that with smaller populations in some communities, there are sometimes doses left in vials that cannot be saved.
The Alberta Health Ministry said waste has become inevitable because fewer people are coming in for injections.
As provinces begin to roll out their booster programs to fend off new waves of COVID-19, vaccine eligibility could lead to more waste, said Dr. Leyla Asadi, an Edmonton-based infectious diseases doctor.
“If doses are discarded due to ineligibility or strict criteria, then that is inappropriate, because we know that globally there is a huge shortage of vaccines. Any wasted dose is really quite sad,” Asadi said.
Alberta continues to have hundreds of thousands of doses in storage, he said, however pharmacists he has spoken to say they have been told to discard the doses rather than give boosters to ineligible people. Asadi said provinces can prevent waste by offering booster shots to anyone 18 years of age or older, similar to what Manitoba has done.
“It is a strange situation that we are in, because there are people in Alberta and other provinces who want that third dose.”
Adam Houston, who works on medical policy for Doctors Without Borders (Doctors Without Borders), said that vaccine waste in Canada is concerning when 47 percent of the world’s eligible population, the majority in sub-Saharan Africa, have yet to received a first dose.
Canada has a reserve of 6.5 million doses and has donated 6.4 million doses to COVAX, an organization that works to provide COVID-19 vaccines to low- and middle-income countries.
“A dose in a freezer somewhere that won’t reach anyone’s arm and is close to expiration is not something we want to see at all,” Houston said. “An overdue dose is the worst case scenario in a pandemic in which many people do not have access to a first dose.
“That certainly suggests that Canada could be doing more in this regard.”
This Canadian Press report was first published on November 19, 2021.