Health Dpt admits 69,129 vaccines against covid-19 have expired in its fridges

Cabezas claims it is due to the difficulty of adjusting supply to demand without prior appointments

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The Devesa de Girona mass vaccination centre in April.

GironaA total of 69,129 vaccine doses against covid-19 have expired in Catalonia, according to the Secretary of Public Health, Carmen Cabezas, who has attributed it to a miscalculation: they believed the rate of vaccination would increase in Setember after it fell in August, which has not happened. "The predictive models showed that in September the number of people who wanted to get vaccinated would recover, but it has been lower than expected. In addition, at vaccination points with no prior appointment we had to make sure there were vaccines available for everyone who wanted one, and this has meant some centres asked for more doses than they were able to administer in the end," she explained.

Cabezas indicated that out of the eleven million plus doses received in Catalonia, the expired doses represent 0.6%, and recalled that in other regions and countries such as the U.S., France, Poland and Germany between 5% and 10% of the doses have gone to waste. It so happens, however, that while there are states that have let vaccines expire, other countries have not even received enough to protect health workers and the elderly.

Vaccines are deep frozen when they arrive and, according to Cabezas, once they thaw they last about 30 days and cannot be moved to other places. The Secretary of Public Health has claimed they have done "everything they could" to prevent them from expiring: 400 vaccination points have been opened throughout Catalonia and have used different strategies to reach all sectors of the population. "For months we have been working with community leaders, going on Sundays to community centres, going to multiple places such as shopping centres or squares, and primary health care is doing a lot of work," he added. To prevent more doses from expiring, Cabezas said that now they no longer send jabs to vaccination centres unless the demand is certain.

As for the doses that are already past their expiry date, Cabezas has indicated that they are being kept refrigerated in case the guidelines change and they can be used after all: "At first Pfizer doses, once thawed, only lasted five days, but now there last thirty". Likewise, she noted that centres have not requested more doses for weeks in order to first use up the ones they have. However, it is becoming ever more difficult to reach those who have not been vaccinated. The Secretary of Public Health also announced that some vaccination points will most likely be closed, although she has not specified which ones.

Currently 79.9% of Catalans over 12 have received the complete vaccination schedule, despite the fact that in the last week the number of doses administered has continued to fall: a fortnight ago it was 159,758; last week it was 108,595.

Third dose for the over-65s

During the press conference, the Secretary of Public Health explained the Vaccine Agency is studying whether to administer a third dose to older people: "Surely it will be done in the coming weeks," said Cabezas. Last week, the Health Department began injecting a third injection to care home residents and immunocompromised patients

The IrsiCaixa researcher Julià Blanco has stressed that there is consensus among the scientific community that a third dose "is not necessary for the population at large", but older people and immunocompromised patients may benefit. In fact, Blanco believes the next step would be to administer this booster injection to all people over 65, and the following would be the health workers, who are the most exposed to the virus. In addition, it is necessary to follow the evolution of the coronavirus in case it has an impact on inoculated people.

Up until now studies show that vaccines are 90% effective, also against the delta variant. Blanco recalled that immunity not only depends on the number of antibodies, but there are also other mechanisms to protect against severe infection, such as cellular immunity.