Tick-tock: Vaccine providers scramble to find takers for “bonus doses” before they expire

Coronavirus in Pennsylvania

YORK, Pa. (WHTM) — Call it a high-quality problem.

In general, the demand for COVID-19 vaccine doses greatly exceeds the supply: A majority of Americans want the vaccine, according to polls, but the country doesn’t have nearly enough doses for all the would-be takers.

But on a micro-level, shot-givers have been finding themselves with too much of a very good thing. In healthcare circles, they call it the “bonus dose.”

Each vial of Pfizer’s vaccine is supposed to contain enough for five doses, and each vial of Moderna’s 10 doses.

But when providers extract the solution with syringes, they often find enough Pfizer vaccine for six doses or enough Moderna for 11, confirmed Dr. Eugene Curley, an infectious disease specialist and Wellspan’s medical director for infection control and prevention.

“If that happens, we can call someone who maybe has flexibility in their schedule and have them come in and get vaccinated,” Curley said.

In other words, like a stand-by list for an airline flight that’s booked full but might have a seat if someone doesn’t show up. “This is still a very limited quantity of vaccines that we’re receiving, and we just don’t want to waste any,” Curley said.

The challenge: Once a vial is open, providers only have a certain amount of time to administer the doses inside before the vaccine could become ineffective — six hours, for example, for the Moderna vaccine, which is the one used at the York clinic where Curley spoke with abc27.

That means finding a flexible person quickly. Providers have developed systems for doing so because aside from the bonus dose, sometimes people don’t show up for their vaccination appointments.

Although not widely reported in U.S. media, the “bonus dose” — a rare pleasant upside surprise during a pandemic filled with despair — is enough of an open secret that European media are reporting Pfizer is aware of it and is, alas, adjusting how much of the vaccine it supplies.

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