Concerns have been raised that “millions” of coronavirus vaccine doses could go to waste in England.
It has been reported that up to 3.5 million doses could be binned, but NHS England (NHSE) said it expects the figure to be “significantly less” than this – although it did not give an exact number.
The Health Service Journal (HSJ) quoted an unnamed source in primary care saying there had been “way too much stock” put in the system, perhaps even “double what was needed”.
On advice from the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency the NHS has agreed with manufacturers to an extension of the shelf-life of some vaccine batches – namely by two weeks for Pfizer and by 30 days for Moderna.
After the booster ramp-up at the end of last year in the face of the spread of the Omicron variant, NHSE said extra supplies had been provided to vaccine sites “based on their expected demand and doses requested”.
The HSJ said its source in primary care had said they are now likely to have to throw out more than half their stocks.
They told the publication: “We’ve been told we can extend for two weeks but that’s delaying the inevitable.
“The scale of the surplus exceeds several months of demand… the logistics pumped way too much stock into the system, double what was needed if we are representative.”
Alena Ivanova, from campaign organisation Global Justice Now, said: “Just two weeks ago, the Government told MPs that the UK does not stockpile vaccines. The appalling scale of this waste shows that was pure fiction.
“This is exactly why lower income countries want to manufacture their own Covid-19 vaccines, an outcome which the UK has repeatedly blocked. The British Government would rather let millions of doses go to waste than allow fair vaccine access for the global south.”
Ms Ivanova was referring to comments made by Foreign Office minister Vicky Ford last month where she said: “The UK does not stockpile Covid-19 vaccines.
“We manage our supply chain very carefully, ensuring that vaccine doses are used and have an impact as quickly as possible, either in the UK or beyond.”
NHSE urged those who have not yet got their booster, perhaps due to having to wait the recommended period of time after having had the virus, to come forward in the coming weeks.
A spokesperson said: “Following the Prime Minister’s call for all adults to be offered a booster vaccine by the end of December, the NHS gave additional supply to sites based on their expected demand and doses requested, with more than 14 million jabs given in December alone.
“The NHS continues to encourage people to come forward – particularly those who were unable to get their booster because they tested positive for Covid-19 in line with JCVI (Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation) advice.”