Unused Covid-19 vaccines being thrown away as LA clinics clueless about 'exceptions' to priority list: Report

When it comes to providing specific definitions of those 'exceptions' and elaborating how far down the priority list providers can go to avoid wasting doses, the guidelines are not clear


                            Unused Covid-19 vaccines being thrown away as LA clinics clueless about 'exceptions' to priority list: Report
Diana Carolina, a pharmacist at Memorial Healthcare System, receives a Pfizer-BioNtech Covid-19 vaccine from Monica Puga, ARNP at Memorial Healthcare System, on December 14, 2020 in Miramar, Florida (Getty Images)

Although Los Angeles County Public Health says it has not directed any clinics to waste unused doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, it was reported last week that facilities were being forced to throw away unused vaccines in the trash at the end of the day when the people scheduled to take the vaccine according to the priority list were a no-show. 

"Although the priority now is to vaccinate frontline healthcare workers and residents in long-term health facilities, Los Angeles County has allowed for exceptions in the vaccination plan to be made in order to prevent any vaccine wastage, as is detailed on page 8 of the department's guidance," the department said in a statement in response to the news which was first broken by TMZ

However, confusion regarding what clinics are supposed to do with unused vaccine set to spoil in a few hours starts with the lack of explanation provided in the guidelines. "Each group should be targeted with sufficient outreach and mobilization before proceeding to the next group. However, exceptions may be made in order to prevent any vaccine wastage," the provision in the guidance reads. But when it comes to providing specific definitions of those "exceptions" elaborating how far down the priority list providers can go to avoid wasting doses, the guidelines are not clear. 

An empty syringe lies on a table at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center after a care worker received the COVID-19 vaccine on December 16, 2020 in Westwood, California. (Getty Images)

In an updated report, TMZ asks, "When a clinic has 800 doses at the end of the day, can a 30-year-old get a vaccine? Do they have to base exceptions on the priority lists? So, do they have to look for 800 70-year-olds before they move to the next group? It makes no sense, and there is no explanation." A rep for the LA health department told the outlet that "exceptions should be based on the priority groups" which the outlet says makes little sense. "How are they going to find 800 70-plus-year-olds in 3 or 4 hours before the vaccines spoil?" the TMZ report states. 

When the outlet called up numerous clinics in LA County, they learned that the health facilities could "not give any vaccines to people who were not on the priority list." The health department did have a closed meeting a week ago where they admitted they needed to clarify the guidelines better and no punitive action would be taken until then. 

It all started when one of the clinics in the county -- the Men's Health Foundation in Inglewood -- ended the day with 150 unused vials of the COVID vaccine that were about to spoil because of a huge number of healthcare who were supposed to receive the doses, never showed up. After the workers at the clinic contacted people who were not on the priority list but desperately wanted the vaccine, the remaining doses were administered and hence nothing got wasted. But this practice was not a norm among most clinics in the county. 

The report of vaccine doses going to waste has angered Los Angeles County Supervisor Janice Hahn. She has said that a system should be set up to make sure any unused COVID-19 vaccines are given out and not thrown away before they expire. "I'm suggesting that we begin immediately having a wait list where people 65 and older can sign up for and then, if this ever happens at any of these places, they will be the first people called to be called to show up and get a vaccine as soon as possible," Hahn said Thursday. "Yesterday, we had 288 people pass away - 200 of them were over 65."



 

Meanwhile, the health officials have insisted that they do not advocate wasting any doses under any circumstances and that the health agency "will investigate any reports of vaccine waste or misuse." People with knowledge of such wastage are told to email [email protected]

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