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€95 million worth of unused Covid vaccines thrown out by HSE

Ireland’s Health Service Executive (HSE) wrote off almost €95 million spent on unused Covid vaccines in 2022, a new report in today’s Irish Times details

The paper details how a staggering €95 million worth of vaccine stocks that had expired in December were written off, along with earlier stocks of the vaccine that were set to expire or become obsolete shortly after. The information was given to HSE board members, The Irish Times reports.

More than 850,000 doses of Covid-19 vaccine were thrown out up to the end of November 2022 after they reached their expiration date, the newspaper reports. It explains how, in some cases, this was owing to reduced demand, however, it was also attributable in other cases due to policy decisions not to use specific Covid vaccines for specific groups.

The HSE has previously said it spent almost €130 million on vaccines in 2021 with €4.6 million worth of these being donated to poorer countries. Spending had reached €142 million by the end of November 2022, The Irish Times reports, with €19 million in stock donated overseas.

Gript has contacted the HSE for comment. While Ireland bought five Covid-19 vaccines – Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca, Novavax and Johnson and Johnson – the majority of people received Pfizer or Moderna shots following the roll-out of the national vaccination programme, which began in December 2020. The use of the AstaZeneca vaccine was terminated in Ireland and in the UK in 2021, with Ireland joining countries around the world to pull the vaccine following a small number of disconcerting reports about rare side effects.

In a statement made in April 2021, the HSE pledged to continue to consider the revised National Immunisation Advisory Committee’s (NIAC) guidance and said it would “advise further in terms of wider implications for the administration of the vaccination programme in due course.”

The expert group said the AstraZeneca vaccine should be limited to those aged 60 and older, and recommended restrictions after the European Medicines Agency (EMA) warned that rare blood clots had been linked with the jab.

According to The Irish Times, the write-off on stocks of Covid vaccines was an issue which impacted the HSE’s annual financial statement for last year.

Ireland follows other countries who were forced to bin huge doses of unused Covid vaccinations. In June, it was revealed that the United States had wasted 82 million doses of the vaccine, from December 2020 through to May 2022 – 11 per cent of all doses given across the country.

Last February, the Daily Mail in the UK reported that 3.5 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine would be binned despite their shelf life being extended. The paper cited the rollout of the vaccine slowing, leading to decreased demand for booster shots.

Ireland’s Covid vaccination rollout has previously been the focus of praise – with advocates describing it as one of the most successful follouts seen globally. Ireland has also been ranked number one in the EU in terms of its percentage of the adult population who are fully vaccinated.

As of 20 February 2023, 12,744,694 vaccine doses have been administered, of which 4,107,865 people have received at least one dose, 3,819,227 have received their second dose and 4,817,602 have received a booster dose.

UPDATE (27 April 2023).

In response to a request for comment, a HSE spokesperson told Gript:

“As we move through the vaccination programme, it is inevitable that the unpredictability of demand will increase and attendance profiles will fluctuate. Notwithstanding, the distribution of vaccine to all vaccine administration sites is done on the basis of robust pharmaceutical inventory management principles including FEFO (first expire/first out) to ensure that stock turn is maximised and the risk of expiry minimised to the greatest extent possible.

“Wastage levels are monitored across our vaccination channels on a regular basis. However, there is always a risk associated with ensuring sufficient stock across all vaccination channels and balancing that with people coming forward in adequate numbers. The priority has to be facilitating those who do come forward. Our primary objective remains that same, we want as many people as possible to avail of the booster vaccine to minimise the health risks associated with Covid-19.”

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