Those administering coronavirus vaccines are allegedly being told to throw away stock due to a drop in younger people opting to get their first jab, reports suggest.
Attempts to use surplus vaccines on people awaiting their second jab are also being thwarted due to strict guidance set out by the government, which states jabs must be given at last eight weeks apart, an anonymous source told the Daily Telegraph.
“For the last two weeks we have literally been throwing the vaccine into the bin,” the vaccinator, from the northeast of England, said.
They added that most people who want their first dose have already come forward but “hesitancy” is stopping more people from coming forward.
More than 87 per cent of the population have received their first vaccination, but that falls significantly to just below 60 per cent for 18- to 25-year-olds. “Some aren’t turning up because they’ve had a vaccine elsewhere,” the source claimed, while criticising the wasteful attitude of throwing the medicine away.
“It is a shame because poorer countries are desperate for vaccines,” they said.
The Joint Committee for Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) currently recommends an interval of eight to 12 weeks between Covid-19 vaccine doses, on the back of studies suggesting it offers greater immunity.
Scientists this week described the eight-week interval as a “sweet spot” for those getting the Pfizer jab, after research showed the wait time generates more neutralising antibodies and “helper” T cells against Delta and other variants of concern than a three-week schedule.
Vaccinators have been told to follow the guidance strictly, which sometimes means throwing vaccine away instead of giving it to people earlier, the unnamed source said.
It is not the first time such claims have been made. Back in February, GP magazine Pulse revealed that in an email, the British Medical Association (BMA) said it was continuing to hear reports of Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) “demanding that vaccines are thrown away” rather than being given as second doses or to “other cohorts”.
Despite there being the same ban then on shortening the gap between first and second doses as it is now, the BMA reminded GPs they could carry out measures such as offering initial jabs outside the first four priority cohorts if there is a “risk” of vaccine wastage.
In the email, sent to GP practices across the country, the BMA said: “We would like to reiterate that NHSE/I has made it clear that the top priority is that all vaccines be used and therefore must not be deliberately wasted.
“All sites should have reserve lists that they can use to make every effort to invite patients or healthcare professionals to ensure that they can make full use of any unused vaccines rather than have any go to waste.”
Some medical professionals are now calling for the gap between doses to be reduced to as low as four weeks to avoid vaccine waste.
Paul Hunter, professor of medicine at the University of East Anglia, said cutting the interval for Pfizer and Moderna for younger people could even be beneficial. “If we are giving younger people that extra immunity earlier on, that might actually help slow the rate [of infection] or even reverse it in cases,” he told the Telegraph.
Nadhim Zahawi, the vaccines minister, this week stood by the government’s decision to stick to the eight-week gap as advised by the JCVI.
“As we raced to offer a vaccine to all adults, we took the JCVI’s advice to shorten the dosing interval from 12 to eight weeks to help protect more people against the Delta variant,” he said.
“I urge every adult to get both doses of the vaccine to protect yourself and those around you and we are looking to offer millions of the most vulnerable a booster jab from September to ensure this protection is maintained.”
The Independent has been in touch with the Department of Health and Social Care for comment.
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