Idaho’s healthcare providers say they are using tight scheduling to limit unassigned doses of the COVID-19 vaccine that would go bad if not used within a few hours. But surprise doses happen anyway.
“These vials are unpredictable,” Dr. Patrice Burgess of St. Alphonsus Health System told Idaho Matters. “Sometimes they contain, for Pfizer, as many as five doses, sometimes as many as seven. For Moderna, sometimes ten, sometimes as many as twelve.”
Complicating matters further, providers rarely know how many doses they'll get until a delivery arrives. Primary Health Medical Group CEO Dr. David Peterman said his clinics received about 2,000 first doses one week, and fewer than 1,000 the next. (Distribution of second doses automatically follows first doses on a three or four week timeline, depending on the manufacturer).
State officials don’t have specific guidance on what vaccine distributors should do with extra doses from an over-filled vial or appointment no-show. One thing healthcare providers don’t want are so-called vaccine scavengers lined up outside their clinics waiting for leftovers.
Instead, providers have different approaches. Through spokespeople, St. Luke’s said it utilizes a now-closed public wait list. St. Alphonsus said it tries to bring people with future appointments in early, and has also made overflow doses available to local school districts.
Other providers have internal preference lists of employees or family members to call on short notice. Every medical provider said they intend to keep innoculations within approved priority groups.
Dr. Peterman said only about 100 unassigned doses had been administered this way across all Primary Health locations. Other providers could not or would not provide those details.
State officials are watching for misuse, but said appropriate distribution is based on the honor system.
“These are all health care providers. I think for the most part, they want to do the right thing,” said State Epidemiologist Dr. Christine Hahn. “We've heard very few stories of folks getting it that maybe weren't the best choice.”
Hahn said most of the time, distributing the vaccine to someone outside a current priority group has happened due to a misunderstanding, not ill-intent.
But, as seen in other states, as vaccines become available at more distribution points, the chance of inappropriate behavior can increase.
Pharmacy groups administering vaccinations like Albertson’s and Walgreens didn’t respond to requests for information on their protocols for overflow doses.
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