Nurse Elizabeth Johnson administers a COVID-19 vaccine to Melissa Mendez in Reading, Pennsylvania. Ben Hasty/MediaNews Group/Reading Eagle/Getty Images
States are racing to use up Johnson & Johnson vaccines set to expire later this month, per multiple reports.
Ohio, which has 200,000 doses set to expire, says it can’t send shots abroad or to other states.
Public opinion of the jab has soured after reports of blood clots and manufacturing problems.
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Millions of Johnson & Johnson vaccines are set to expire in June, and thousands could be wasted because fewer and fewer Americans are getting vaccinated, according to reports by The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times.
Some states have considered shipping excess doses to other states or even overseas, but said they faced legal and logistical hurdles.
The J&J vaccine is easier to transport, store, and administer than other vaccines. Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine is the only single-dose vaccine authorized in the US, and can also be stored in a regular refrigerator for up to three months. But public opinion of the jab has soured, following reports that it could cause blood clots in very rare cases, and that a factory in Baltimore producing the vaccine ruined up to 15 million doses and failed to meet sanitation protocols.
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As the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) investigated the blood clot concerns in April, it told states to pause use of Johnson & Johnson’s shot. This, combined with the overall decline in vaccinations in the US and the public’s hesitancy towards Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine, has left states with millions of doses due to expire this month – and few people willing to take them.
Most Americans don’t get to choose which vaccine they receive, but some pharmacies only offer certain brands, so people may choose their pharmacy accordingly.
CDC data shows that just 53% of Johnson & Johnson vaccines delivered to states have been administered, compared to 83% for Moderna and 84% for Pfizer. Just over 10 million Johnson & Johnson are still waiting to be given out, largely due to the decline in vaccination rates and the FDA-mandated pause.
Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine said Monday that the state had around 200,000 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine set to expire on June 23, while Dr. Jennifer Dillaha, Arkansas’ state epidemiologist, said on June 2 that it was pausing new vaccine orders because it already had up to 60,000 doses of Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine set to expire this month.
Dillaha told 5 News that overall demand for vaccines was dropping in Arkansas – but that the Johnson & Johnson shot was the least sought after.
Other states, including Michigan and Philadelphia, have reported similar problems – but they’ve struggled to shift excess doses elsewhere.
Pennsylvania’s Department of Health told The Journal that it had worked with the CDC to try to transfer Chester County’s 50,000 expiring Johnson and Johnson doses to Oregon. The deal fell through when Oregon said there wasn’t enough demand for the jab, officials told The Journal.
Ohio said it was not legally able to send the vaccine abroad or to other states, and said it had been “aggressively” working with vaccine providers to use as many doses as possible before they expire.
Nearly two-thirds of adults have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). But, as more people get the shot, the rate of vaccination is dropping, falling from a peak of 4.3 million on April 1 to a current average of less than 1 million a day.
“There is a very, very small fraction of doses that have been sent out to states that will ultimately not be used,” Andy Slavitt, a White House pandemic adviser, said Tuesday, per The Times. He added that the FDA was looking into ways to extend the vaccine’s shelf life.
Both states and companies have been offering incentives to drive vaccination rates up, including free doughnuts, entry in a $1 million lottery draw, and $100 saving bonds.
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