100,000 Pfizer vaccine doses 'thrown away' after faulty PHE guidance, doctors claim

Jamie Johnson
·3-min read
Pfizer BioNTech Covid-19 Vaccine - Arnold Jerocki/Getty Images Europe
Pfizer BioNTech Covid-19 Vaccine - Arnold Jerocki/Getty Images Europe
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More than 100,000 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine may have been thrown away because of incorrect guidance by Public Health England, it has been revealed.

Instructions issued when the vaccine was being produced in December said that five doses could be obtained from each vial, but was revised by PHE on Jan 4 to allow for “administration of a sixth dose if obtainable”.

The Department for Health and Social Care said that the updated guidance had been issued on Dec 17, made available in a pack called “information for UK healthcare professionals”.

However, it is understood that some healthcare staff were unaware of the changes.

Government figures show that between Dec 8 and Dec 20, 600,000 people received the Pfizer vaccine in the UK.

This means that if there was an extra dose in each vial, there would be an extra 120,000 shots not used.

Prof Sir Sam Everington, chair of Tower Hamlets CCG, said the rules should have been made clear earlier to avoid vaccines being needlessly wasted.

“It’s just mortifying. I don’t know how many were lost in the process by nurses and GPs but I was incredibly frustrated, because I wanted them to mandate the six doses far earlier,” he said.

Dr Mary Ramsay, head of immunisation at PHE, said: “The NHS issued guidance on the sixth dose to the health system in December and the relevant regulations were amended shortly after. Therefore, clinicians could and were using the sixth dose before the PGD [patient group direction] was published.”

But Prof Everington said: “We got information that, actually, you could do six, but what they didn’t do was change something called the PGD. And that’s the ruling that nurses abide by. It took too long to come out with the PGD.”

Britain’s medical regulator, the MHRA, says every small glass container which holds the liquid vaccine contains five doses of the jab, administered in 0.3ml shots. But once the vaccine is diluted before being given to patients, as per the instructions, the vial holds as much as 2.25ml – enough for seven and a half doses.

It is thought that the vials are overfilled with extra doses in case the vaccine spills in transit or it gets stuck inside the syringe when it is administered.

The UK is not the first country to have revised its advice on Pfizer doses. On Dec 16, the US Food and Drug Administration clarified that extra doses from vials of the vaccine can be used if a full dose can be extracted.

In Israel, which has led the way on vaccination with 15 per cent of its population receiving the jab in the first two weeks, approval for a sixth Pfizer dose to be used came out on Dec 24.

The EU is even further behind. Only yesterday did the European Medicines Agency recommend updating the product information to clarify that each vial contains six doses of the vaccine.

The Prime Minister confirmed that as of Jan 7, with the Pfizer and Oxford jabs combined, over 1.5 million across the UK have been vaccinated.