What should be done with Canada’s expiring COVID-19 vaccine doses?

With more than one million, and potentially more, COVID-19 vaccine doses having expired in Canada so far this year, some are urging the country to do more to send excess supply to countries that need them.

Health Canada says nearly 1.5 million doses, held in a national inventory, have expired since January, The Canadian Press reported last week.

While representing less than two per cent of the 118 million doses delivered to Canada since December 2020, the vast majority of those in Canada’s stockpile of more than 18 million will expire in the next four months.

Speaking to CTV’s Your Morning on Thursday, University of Saskatchewan professor of community health and epidemiology Nazem Muhajarine said some waste is inevitable, but it’s something Canada needs to pay attention to and plan for.

“I think that we could now better project and plan for vaccine rollout than we were able to about a year ago, and we need to make sure that the supply is there for the demand and the projected uptake,” he said.

The Canadian Press reported that expired doses are not tossed immediately until Health Canada receives word from the manufacturer about whether the expiration date can be extended.

Last November, the Public Health Agency of Canada said it hopes to keep the number of wasted doses of COVID-19 vaccines under five per cent.

At the time, an estimated 2.6 per cent of doses were believed to have been discarded, although rates vary between provinces and reasons can range from dropped or defective vials and syringes to poor dose management and expiration.

Muhajarine says when it comes to vaccine planning this includes sending some doses to countries that need them.

“Until all of us are vaccinated with two doses, none of us are really safe,” he said.

In February, the United Nations reported that only 11 per cent of Africa’s population is fully vaccinated.

Canada’s ambassador to the United Nations, Bob Rae, in September said Canada needs to share more of its COVID-19 vaccine surplus to less fortunate countries.

Canada has committed to donate, by the end of 2022, at least 200 million doses to other countries around the world through the COVAX, or COVID-19 Vaccine Global Access, facility. This includes more than 50 million procured doses that Health Canada has found exceed domestic demand.

More than 14.2 million surplus vaccines have been delivered through the facility, as of April 6, 2022, the federal government says, along with 762,080 AstraZeneca doses as part of direct agreements with countries in Latin America and the Caribbean.

However, the short shelf life of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine has complicated its rollout in some countries, with Nigeria in December destroying more than one million doses that couldn’t be used before their expiration date.

“We have lots of doses with us and we cannot use it all at once before they expire, and we need to really get those doses out to countries who can use them and help them distribute them to people,” Muhajarine said.

With files from The Canadian Press and Reuters 

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