The Leftovers: Inside The Fierce Hunt For Extra Vaccines

“The system allowed for vaccines to be thrown out, so individuals took things into their own hands.”

2/26/2021 11:55:00 PM

“The system allowed for vaccines to be thrown out, so individuals took things into their own hands.”

“The system allowed for vaccines to be thrown out, so individuals took things into their own hands.”

is left largely in the hands of states, counties, and pharmacy chains. Some systems are more organized than others. Giant Food, an East Coast grocery chain, first offers extras to in-store pharmacists and associates. Then they ask anyone 65 or over in the store if they can and would like to receive the vaccine. Then they move onto younger shoppers and vaccine hunters. “The idea is to not let any of the vaccine go to waste,” a Giant Food spokesperson tells Refinery29. “However we do not want people waiting in lines hoping to get extra doses and we are not having waitlists.” 

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It’s not a perfect system, but it is a start. And some places, like, a low-income health network in Nashville, TN, do have waitlist systems, through which workers call people who are eligible when there are leftover shots; another hopeful sign that fewer and fewer doses are going to waste. 

Advertisementnursing homesin the area twice a week to see if they still have people who need to be vaccinated. “Right now we have a list of about 42 individuals,” says Alan Harris, Seminole County’s emergency manager. When there are leftover doses — some days there are none, other days a handful — they transport the vials in a refrigerated vehicle to the care facilities.

In Cincinnati, the city health department created an extremely organized chart system for taking vials out of the fridge, and they haven’t had any leftovers at all since the beginning of the vaccine rollout, says Virginia"Jenny" Scott, RN, the

Cincinnati Health Department’s director of nursing, quality, and compliance, whose background in quality improvement made her well-suited to organize the rollout in the city. “We had one evening at the very beginning of the rollout when we were working until 9 at night trying to find arms for 15 extra vaccines,” she says. “That never happened again.” She tweaked and retweaked the system, and soon, they were down to five leftovers a night, then one — and for the last month, they’ve had none at all. 

But not all vaccination sites are as discerning. Paul* tells Refinery29 about a “leftovers line” that formed outside of a mass vaccine center at Rowan College South Jersey was first come, first serve. “A girl was standing in front of me, and her mom was a few places behind me, and they switched places once we got towards the front of the line,” he said. “It’d be nice if older people got to go first, but I don’t think anyone in that line was willing to sacrifice their place if it wasn’t for family.” 

Advertisement“Very rarely do we have extra vaccine at the end of the night due to the work and preparation we put into planning for the day ahead,”Robert M. Damminger, Commissioner Director of Gloucester County said in a statement about the Rowan College site. “There are individuals who continue to walk-up to the site in the hopes that, when we have extras, we can inoculate them. There have been circumstances in the past where we were able to take walk-ups because of individuals not showing to their appointments or last-minute cancellations... We have never and will never

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throw vaccines awayat the end of the day.” Damminger adds that their system has improved with time, and, after switching to using syringes with a more “accurate draw,” they can be more precise with dosing and thus have fewer leftovers. But although individual systems are doing their best to improve, despite some kinks, the lack of clarity and consistency around the best practices for what to do with leftovers has led to serious consequences. 

In Texas,Hasan Gokal, MD, was fired and is facing a grand jury indictment for allegedly stealing 10 vaccine doses. The so-called “theft” happened on December 29, during his first day supervising vaccinations at a site in a Houston suburb. In order to vaccinate the person with the last appointment of the day, at 6:45 p.m., a nurse on Dr. Gokal’s team had to puncture a new Moderna vial, meaning there were 10 doses that would expire at about 12:45 a.m. Dr. Gokal says the state health department told him not to let any doses go to waste, so he offered the leftovers to the workers and police officers on site. Most declined or had already had the shot, so, after getting permission from a supervisor, he took the vaccine home and continued calling around to find eligible candidates. He ultimately gave out nine vaccines to older,

at-risk, and immunocompromisedacquaintances and strangers that night, making “house-calls” and asking some to meet him at his home. When the person set to receive the last extra dose was a no-show around midnight, he gave it to his wife, who has a pulmonary disease. He filed all the requisite vaccination paperwork the next day. 

AdvertisementAlthough he says public health officials had approved his actions, Dr. Gokal was fired and told he violated protocol (though in a subsequent discovery request by Dr. Gokal’s defense counsel, Harris County Public Health confirmed no protocols existed at the time, Dr. Gokal’s legal team tells Refinery29).

Read more: Refinery29 »

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