at least 19 million doses of COVID-19 According to data obtained by The Canadian Press, vaccines are about to run out in Canada by the end of the year.
The Public Health Agency of Canada said the federal central inventory currently has 18.5 million doses in stock, of which 16.8 million have 2023 expiration dates.
According to figures provided by health ministries and departments across the country, there are more than eight million additional doses in provincial and territorial stockpiles.
Those numbers suggest that more than two million provincial and territorial supplements will expire by the end of the year.
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However, that’s less likely because Ontario, New Brunswick and PEI haven’t disclosed the proportion of their doses that will expire by the end of the year. Ontario alone has 4.8 million COVID-19 vaccine doses in its supply.
A spokeswoman for the Public Health Agency of Canada said in an email, “The Government of Canada, along with the provinces and territories, will continue efforts to optimize its COVID-19 vaccine supply management and reduce COVID-19 vaccine surplus and wastage. “
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For example, some of those doses could be used in COVID-19 vaccine campaigns if the National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) recommends further booster shots “based on the scientific evidence.”
The Public Health Agency of Canada said other possible options could include donating surplus COVID-19 vaccine doses to developing countries or extending the expiration date of some doses.
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There is a possibility of “a fall booster shot campaign for the general population,” said Dr. Matthew Miller, director of the DeGroot Institute for Infectious Disease Research at McMaster University.
NACI’s current spring recommendations are targeted at more vulnerable groups. These include booster shots for people age 65 and older, as well as for others at high risk of severe disease, if it has been six months or more since their last shot or a COVID-19 infection.
The federal inventory holds about 6.7 million doses of bivalent COVID-19 vaccines, which specifically target the Omicron variant and are recommended for booster shots. Data from provinces and territories shows that a large proportion of their vaccine supplies are bivalent doses.
Health officials across the country say supplies of non-bivalent vaccines are still needed for first-time vaccinators (the primary series of shots) and for children under the age of five. More than 80 per cent of Canadians have completed their primary series of COVID-19 vaccinations.
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Canada is also “ready” to donate surplus COVID-19 doses to developing countries, Global Affairs Canada said in an email to The Canadian Press.
But it acknowledges that many low-income countries are either not demanding COVID-19 vaccines as they were earlier in the pandemic, or do not have the capacity to get shots into people’s arms.
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“The global scenario has shifted from a period of limited supply to one where vaccine supply currently exceeds demand and administration capacity,” Global Affairs Canada said.
“The current challenge is therefore not supply, but distribution, distribution and demand in the country.”
Plus, as the expiration date draws closer, the clock is ticking to donate the supplements.
“Recipient countries typically request vaccines with a shelf life of at least six months, which is considered a reasonable timeline that allows for planning for the rollout,” said a spokeswoman for GAVI, the global vaccine alliance that Helps monitor COVID-19 vaccine donations. an email.
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A GAVI spokesperson said that so far, Canada has donated more than 25 million doses that have been shipped to 30 countries.
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Another possible option to reduce vaccine waste is expiration date extensions by vaccine manufacturers that are approved by Health Canada.
It’s already happened in PEI, said Morgan Martin, a spokeswoman for the province’s Department of Health and Welfare.
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“The vaccines in our current inventory have varying expiration dates, and are updated when the manufacturer is given an extended expiration date,” she said in an email.
“For example, the expiration dates for the current Pfizer Infant and Pfizer Pediatric vaccines were extended and no longer expire until 2024.”
To determine whether a vaccine is still effective beyond the original expiration date, manufacturers conduct “stability tests,” said Mina Tadars, assistant professor of pharmacy at the University of Toronto.
“A manufacturer basically ages something and then tests it in a certain environment,” Tadarus said. These tests take into account factors such as refrigeration to determine whether there are circumstances where the expiration date can be extended.
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Because the COVID-19 vaccines were new products created in response to an immediate pandemic, there was no way of knowing exactly how long they might last so they were given “really tight” expiration dates, he said.
As time goes on, researchers can see how long and under what conditions vaccine and drug formulations last, Tadrus said _ and expiration dates could be revised in consultation with Health Canada.
Tadrus and Miller both said that despite efforts to use up as much as possible before supplies of the COVID-19 vaccine run out, there is bound to be waste.
This is not surprising given the complexities of trying to protect people and predicting vaccine uptake during a pandemic, he said.
“From a domestic perspective, we will have more problems than having too few vaccines,” Miller said.