Longer shelf-lives for Covid jabs to combat waste

·2-min read
Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine vials in Gaza, in September - Shutterstock
Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine vials in Gaza, in September - Shutterstock

The shelf-lives of a number of the leading Covid-19 vaccines could be extended in the near future, amid warnings that millions of doses could expire before they can be used around the world.

Pfizer/BioNTech got the green light from the European Union’s medicines regulator last week to extend the expiry dates on its coronavirus jab, The Telegraph understands.

The vaccine can now be safely used for up to nine months. The US Food and Drugs Administration (FDA) has also signed off on a similar extension.

The Oxford University-AstraZeneca teams are also gathering data on their vaccine in order to look into lengthening use-by dates.

The coronavirus vaccines have unusually short expiry dates - most are in the region of six months, while most other vaccines are usually stable for several years. The Covid jabs had shorter time-stamps because they were developed so quickly that there was not enough time to test how long they remained usable for, so vaccine makers and regulators erred on the side of caution.

Now that more time has elapsed since the jabs were first developed, the drug manufacturers have had more time to test the stability of their vaccines over a longer period.

They have submitted this data to the various regulatory bodies around the world, including the EU's European Medicines Agency (EMA), the World Health Organization (WHO) and the US FDA.

It is understood that the British regulator, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), is also considering the information provided.

The manufacturers are also looking to make the vaccine’s shelf-lives even longer, as more data comes in, in order to make sure that doses are not wasted because of unnecessarily short expiry dates.

Last week, The Telegraph reported that 800,000 doses of AstraZeneca-Oxford University's Covid-19 vaccine were set for the bin in the UK after expiring at the end of August.

Earlier this week, former prime minister Gordon Brown called for urgent efforts to step up dose sharing with poorer countries to make sure a similar fate did not hit up to 100 million doses of vaccine from different manufacturers, all due to expire by the end of this year.

That is just among the spare doses in the G7 and EU countries; if the doses in lower and middle income countries that are set to expire are also included, up to 241 million may expire and face being thrown away, according to the data company Airfinity: enough to vaccinate the entire UK population twice.

The MHRA declined to comment on whether it was considering the expiry date data, citing commercial confidentiality.

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