People are randomly getting vaccinated at pharmacies because of extra doses that need to be used before they expire

vaccine vials
Vials of undiluted Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine are prepared to administer to staff and residents at a senior living community in Falls Church, Virginia, on December 30, 2020.
  • Non-priority people are getting vaccinated ahead of schedule when pharmacies have extra doses thawed.
  • In some cases, vaccine providers are faced with the decision to throw out extra doses when they expire or give them to random people.
  • Other times, confusion about the amount of doses per vial and rumors of excess supply have led to mishaps in vaccine allocation.
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Across the country, some non-healthcare workers are getting their COVID-19 vaccines earlier than expected because pharmacies have extra doses left over.

That's not to say there's an excess supply of vaccines overall. However, both the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines need to be stored at cold temperatures and used within hours of thawing, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In some cases, pharmacies and hospitals find themselves with leftover doses at the end of the day, and they are faced with the choice to either throw out the vials or offer them to lower-priority recipients.

Although the Food and Drug Administration has given vaccine providers the green light to use  any extra doses left in the Pfizer and Moderna vials, the federal government hasn't specified what should be done when there are more thawed doses than eligible recipients.

Some providers have taken matters into their own hands to ensure that no vaccine doses go unused. They've offered the leftovers to local first responders, pharmacy staff, and the occasional average person who happened to be in the right place at the right time.

A couple in Kentucky heard about extra doses from a friend and 'ran right up'

News of extra vaccine doses at a Louisville, Kentucky Walgreens reached the Mastersons by word of mouth on Christmas Eve. 

"[A friend] called us, and we ran right up. It was pure luck," Andrew Masterson, co-owner of local restaurant Captain's Quarters, told the Louisville Courier-Journal. He added that he and his wife, who is undergoing chemotherapy for stage 4 cancer, each got a dose of the Pfizer vaccine at Walgreens that day.

The pharmacy chain has been contracted to supply vaccines to long-term care facilities in Kentucky, and on December 24, "the amount of vaccine doses requested by facilities exceeded the actual need," Walgreens spokesman Phil Caruso told the Courier-Journal.

Caruso told the outlet that this situation was an isolated occurrence, but Governor Andy Beshear confirmed that a similar incident took place at a Walgreens in Lexington, Kentucky, the week prior.

"The reaction wasn't what it should have been," Beshear told the Courier-Journal, referring to both incidents. "Now, do I believe it came from a good place - yes, because they didn't want any of it to go to waste, but should it have been done differently - yes."

In DC, a law student got lucky at the supermarket

Law school student David MacMillan was getting groceries at a Giant Food in Washington, DC, when a pharmacist asked him and his friend if they would like the Moderna vaccine.

Not all of the healthcare who were scheduled to get the dose that day showed, a Giant representative wrote in a statement supporting the pharmacist's actions.

The pair quickly accepted the offer. MacMillan posted a video on TikTok detailing his experience Friday.

 

"She turned to us and was like, 'Hey, I've got two doses of the vaccine and I'm going to have to throw them away if I don't give them to somebody. We close in 10 minutes. Do you want the Moderna vaccine?" he said in the video. 

MacMillan told NBC Washington he posted the video to address any misinformation surrounding the COVID-19 vaccine.

"It's important that, when there's so much misinformation swirling, that people are able to see that this is a good thing, this is a positive thing. We should be excited about being able to deal with the pandemic," MacMillan told the outlet.

In other cases, confusion about doses led to misallocation of vaccines

Not all instances of people receiving extra doses have been happy accidents.

Hundreds of elderly people in Tennessee were turned away from getting a COVID-19 vaccine on New Year's Eve, only for health officials to call up their family and friends to get their shots later that day.

The Hamilton County Health Department tweeted telling people to "please leave the line NOW and return at another time," just over an hour after vaccinations began, because the line was so long it reached the highway, NBC affiliate WRCB-TV reported.

Later that day, officials said they realized there were more thawed vials that needed to be used, prompting them to offer shots to non-priority recipients.

At Stanford Hospital last week, some non-clinical affiliates got vaccinated during a walk-in period because they were under the impression there were extra doses. Stanford released a statement saying there was not actually an excess supply of vaccines.

Finally, a woman who said she works for Disney wrote in a Facebook post (which has since been taken down) that she received a vaccine from Redlands Community Hospital in Southern California with the help of family connections. There were doses left over after the vaccinations of frontline healthcare workers in that case, but the extra shots were supposed to go to lower-priority healthcare workers.

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