CANBERRA, 22 OCTOBER 2021 (THE GUARDIAN)—The number of unused doses of AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine in Australia has ballooned above 7m as the federal government urges doctors and pharmacists to prevent waste by redirecting excess stock to areas of higher demand.
A Guardian Australia analysis of vaccination rollout data shows about 7.3m doses of AstraZeneca have been released for use, but have yet to be administered or set aside for foreign aid.
Domestic production remains strong and the volume of AstraZeneca being released has increased significantly in recent months, up from 2.5m in July to 4m in August and 3.9m in September, with at least 2.5m doses so far in October.
But the use of the vaccine has waned as more Pfizer supplies come online. The number of administered doses is down from 3m in August to 2m in September and 662,00 to date in October.
The huge unused supply of AstraZeneca vaccine has prompted fears it will go to waste. The health department says it has kept wastage rates at 2% during the pandemic so far. But it says it has recently written to GP clinics and pharmacies to advise them on how to manage their excess doses.
“In the first instance, transfer of surplus stock to local administration sites with demand is encouraged and the Commonwealth is actively working with vaccination providers to assist with redirection of excess stock where practical,” a spokesperson said.
Dr Mukesh Haikerwal, a Melbourne-based GP and former Australian Medical Association president, said his clinic has found it increasingly hard to move AstraZeneca.
He has reduced the amount his clinic holds to 800 doses in an attempt to avoid having excess stock. But he says some wastage is inevitable.
“You’ve got a very good vaccine going to waste, there’s not much you can do about it. Fantastic drug. It got a lot of bad reviews for no good reason, and it’s really problematic.”
Other doctors have reported being forced to dispose of hundreds of doses because of expiration.
Stock is also being collected for donations to Pacific neighbours through the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT).
So far, about 3.7m doses have been donated to 12 countries.
But the data also shows a significant cut in the number of AstraZeneca doses set aside for donations to the Pacific last week, despite the flagging domestic demand.
Reports from the vaccine operations centre show the volume of doses made available for distribution to the Pacific fell to just 26,500 last week, down from 308,000 and 200,000 in the two weeks prior, and weekly totals of 500,000 through much of September.
It is the lowest number of doses set aside for the Pacific since June. The data reflects the number of doses made available to Dfat, rather than actual deliveries made to Pacific countries.
DFAT did not explain what was behind the cut. But a spokesperson said Australia was “taking a leading role in responding to the vaccine needs of the Pacific”.
“Last week 100,000 doses were delivered to Solomon Islands in response to a request for additional doses, and a further 60,000 doses will be delivered to PNG this evening,” the spokesperson said on Tuesday.
The foreign minister, Marise Payne, said on Wednesday that the Covid-19 situation in Papua New Guinea was “very concerning, as we’re seeing a new surge in cases associated with the Delta strain, and it is placing significant pressure on the health system”.
“Both the prime minister and I have spoken with our Papua New Guinea colleagues to discuss the challenges that they’re dealing with, including to assure them that Australia is standing by them at this very difficult time.”
Payne said Australia was “supporting Papua New Guinea to vaccinate more frontline health workers and expanding commercial vaccination hubs including in major urban centres like Lae”….PACNEWS