Up to 30 percent of France's Covid vaccine doses could end up in the bin

Handle with care: a container of the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine.
Handle with care: a container of the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine. AP - Angelika Warmuth

With the stringent temperature conditions required for the transport and storage of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, the French prime minister's office has warned that as much as 30 percent of doses could be wasted. A figure described as "madness" by some health professionals.


The vaccine is going to be in short supply for the first three months of this year, warns Anne-Claude Crémieux, infectious diseases specialist at a central Paris hospital. "That is why waste must be kept to an absolute minimum."

Dr Crémieux has described the government warning that wastage levels could reach 30 percent as "madness".

Handling the vaccine is notoriously difficult, with a conservation temperature of -80°C required.

Once the individual doses have been diluted from the larger transport containers, the vaccine must be administered within six hours. Beyond that time, unused doses must be thrown away.

In fact, the government figure of 30 percent wastage has been established "as a precaution" by the French central health agency, an unnamed official told the daily Le Figaro: "The figure is a way of organising the distribution chain, leaving a wide margin of error. We'll give a more realistic indication once the vaccination programme gets up to speed." 

Hospital staff wasting 'a few' doses every day

One central Paris hospital says current wastage levels are of the order of "several doses per day, but no more than that". A system of pre-registration of vulnerable staff is in operation in the Paris hospital system, with substitutes taking the place of those unable to keep their appointments.

But this sort of scheme is easier to supervise within the hospital system, since all those being vaccinated are health personnel.

Dr Crémieux admits that such substitutions will be more difficult to organise in public vaccination centres. She hopes the Moderna vaccine, soon to be available in France and much easier to transport and store, will ease the situation.

Excessive wastage allowance

There is also a question of wastage associated with the Pfizer-BioNTech containers. Each bottle is supposed to provide five injections, with an allowance for wastage. But doctors administering the injections say there is sufficient vaccine remaining in each bottle to permit another injection.

The National Health Agency has been asked to make a decision to authorise the sixth shot.

The French health authorities said 138,000 people had been vaccinated against Covid-19 by 11 January, mostly residents of care homes for the aged and front-line health professionals.

The government hopes to vaccinate five million people by the end of the month, but current orders are unlikely to provide more than 2.8 million doses by that date.


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