Calls are growing to create a waiting list system for Australians chasing a Pfizer vaccine in a bid to prevent doses ending up in the bin as a result of booking no-shows.
It comes amid reports of medical clinics and vaccination hubs throwing away expired doses because people are failing to turn up to their appointments.
But there are other reasons for vaccine wastage.
Channel Nine reported that 20 per cent of bookings failed to show up to a Victorian vaccination hub at the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre on Monday.
A Victorian Department of Health spokesperson said the doses were not wasted.
“A missed appointment does not mean vaccine is wasted, as vaccine is only drawn up as needed. In the limited circumstances where there is excess vaccine, health services work to locate other people who can receive it,” the spokesperson said.
More to the story than Pfizer no-shows
Although it’s true that some people are failing to turn up to vaccine appointments, it’s not the only reason Pfizer doses occasionally end up in the bin.
Often it comes down to storage issues.
Theoretically, each vial of Pfizer vaccine (0.45ml) contains enough for six doses of 0.3ml when it is diluted with saline, according to Australian Medical Association (AMA) vice president Dr Chris Moy.
However, depending on the size of the syringe, it is not always possible to extract the sixth dose, he said.
That means a doctor may need to open four vials instead of three, if he or she has 18 vaccination bookings that day.
“If somebody doesn’t turn up, you could end up with a whole vial (left over),” Dr Moy said.
Herein lies the issue: Once a vial is opened and diluted, the vaccine only lasts for up to six hours.
“Now, the problem is you might end up with theoretical wastage, so you either throw it in the bin or give it to somebody else,” Dr Moy said.
Melbourne man Peter, a 29-year-old sales professional who did not want his real name to be published, was one of those lucky people.
Despite having no pre-existing health conditions or disabilities, he was able to get a Pfizer jab last week because he knew someone who worked at a medical clinic.
“We weren’t allowed to come down until 6pm, before they shut at 6.30pm,” he told The New Daily.
“We got down there, and they had six extra doses just sitting there.They wanted to get rid of the jabs so it wasn’t a waste.”
Dr Moy said ideally, clinics should set up a wait list prioritising those in an eligible group before giving it to anybody else who happens to be available.
Otherwise, VIP access to vaccines could create a huge ethical problem.
“A doctor or healthcare worker should not use their position to take advantage of the situation by giving preference to family or friends, or by taking any remuneration to get the vaccine, because then we’re in a really dark, ethical place,” he said.
“It’s important that doctors are not actually – or perceived to be – taking advantage of their position.”
Nearly one million doses of the Pfizer vaccine arrived in Australia on Monday night, with more than 800,000 landing in Sydney and nearly 100,000 landing in Melbourne.
From now on, the Morrison government expects one million doses a week until late August.
However, it will likely take months for under-40s to access them.