VACCINE TEAM: Supply exceeding demand, DHS altering COVID-19 vaccine vial priorities

(Parker Michels-Boyce/ For the Virginia Mercury)
Published: May. 3, 2021 at 2:22 PM CDT
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Wis. (WSAW) - The Wisconsin Department of Health Services has been able to fulfill full orders of COVID-19 vaccines to providers for the second week in a row due to the supply of vaccines exceeding the demand in the state. Previously, DHS would only be able to fill partial orders or not be able to regularly fulfill vaccine requests for some smaller providers.

Greg Engle, DHS’ COVID-19 Taskforce member who leads COVID-19 vaccine operations said during the most recent weekly vaccinator stakeholder call that they plan to continue the method for providers to submit vaccine requests to the state for now, but plan to likely shift to a more on-demand model in the future as demand decreases.

As of Monday, about 43% of people in Wisconsin have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. Nearly 35% are fully vaccinated.

A recently released De Beaumont poll of 1,000 registered voters found 40% of them are more likely to get a COVID-19 vaccine. People who voted in the presidential election for Donald Trump are less likely to get vaccinated than people who voted for Joe Biden, however, the survey found that the gap between those people is narrowing. It also found overall confidence in the vaccines is rising despite the temporary pause in the use of the Johnson and Johnson, which has since been lifted.

DHS is also shifting its priorities for vaccine providers when it comes to getting people a shot. Previously, vaccinators were encouraged to plan appointments and usage of a vial of vaccine to not waste doses. Now, it is prioritizing not wasting opportunities to vaccinate people.

“It’s important that all vaccine providers continue to be good stewards of vaccine and take all necessary steps to minimize wastage. However, it is important to ensure that we are not wasting opportunities to vaccinate,” Stephanie Schauer, DHS COVID-19 vaccination infrastructure lead said in that same stakeholder call. “The goal of getting that vaccine into someone who is there in front of you should take precedence over being concerned about wasting a couple of doses.”

Once vials of the COVID-19 vaccines are opened they must be used within a certain period of time, depending on the brand of vaccine, and cannot be saved for later use. For example, if one dose is left in a five-dose vial, if that last dose is not used within the time period necessary, it will be considered waste and could not be used the next day. Schauer said to vaccinators, if there are people there but not enough to use a full vial, open the vial anyway.

“We understand that wastage may go up slightly because of this, but it is important to ensure that we aren’t missing opportunities someone and turning them away.”

At the same time, Schauer said Moderna will be shipping its vaccine in larger-dose vials starting this week. Most recently, the vials contained 11 doses of vaccine and the new vials will contain 14 doses with the possibility of sometimes extracting a fifteenth dose.

“If it were up to us, we would be having the single-dose vial, I think from, available right from the start, but that is not the way they decided to move,” Schauer answered in response to a question about why the vials would be increased and the concern for wastage. “I think it was in a decision about, perhaps being an efficient use of resources and probably would have served us well when we were in high demand and you were going through doses quickly. We have communicated that information to CDC that the 15 is sort of going the wrong way and that there is that need for single dose, you know, vials and going in that direction.”

Globally, not all countries have had the same access to vaccines, with larger amounts going to wealthier countries.

“There are more than 100 countries which have vaccinated less than 5% of their population,” Anna Benton, DHS COVID-19 vaccination lead said. “So India, the country where there’s the most serious outbreak and the country with the highest daily infection tally ever, only 1.4% of that population has been fully vaccinated.”

She urged, “the more this virus spreads, the more opportunities there are for varients to crop up which can affect everyone.” She said the U.S. ranks third in the world for the number of people vaccinated behind Israel and the U.K.

Schauer said the research about the available vaccines are showing that they are effective against variant strains so far and for the small percentage of people who do contract COVID-19 after receiving a vaccine have no or mild symptoms often caught through regular screening, like temperature checks going into a workplace.

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