DOCTORS leaders have demanded ‘full transparency’ from health boards amid concern over the number of vaccines discarded after clinics were told not to give boosters to NHS workers.
The majority of second doses of the Pfizer/BioNtech vaccine were due to be administered last week before a UK directive was changed to delay appointments for 12 weeks to ensure as many people as possible at highest risk were given a measure of protection against Covid.
Dr Lewis Morrison, leader of the BMA in Scotland, said clinics in some board areas had been given the flexibility to administer excess vaccines as boosters but said this had not happened in all areas.
He said there was evidence that some doses may have had to be discarded if other, first appointments could not be arranged “at short notice”.
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One doctor, who works in the Forth Valley area said they had been told that staff were not to give a second dose “even if there were spare defrosted doses at the end of the day.”
Dr Morrison said: “We really need full figures and transparency from boards to check the veracity of claims this didn’t lead to wastage and guarantees that it will not going forward.”
A Scottish Government spokeswoman said early estimates suggest vaccine wastage has been around 1.82% “well below a 5% planning assumption” and said it will consider whether to include reports as part of other regular statistic reporting.
The BMA has called for second doses of the Pfizer vaccine to be re-instated for front line NHS workers saying the evidence behind the 12-week delay is “debatable.”
The number of people UK-wide who have been given a first dose of a Covid-19 vaccine was 3,234,946 as of January 14, including 224,840 in Scotland. The UK number showed a rise of 316,694 on the day before.
The asked every Scottish health board what the procedure would be for excess vaccinations and found that the approach was not uniform.
NHS Lothian was the only board which said a second dose would be offered to staff or patients if there was a risk a vaccine might have to be discarded.
NHS Lanarkshire said excess vaccines would be offered to other staff as a first dose “in line with JCVI guidance” which was also the policy in Grampian and in Ayrshire and Arran.
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Only one board – NHS Borders – provided some data for wastage saying ‘careful planning and delivery’ had led to 0.4% of vaccine doses having to be discarded but did not specify numbers.
Western Isles said it had put a reserve list of eligible staff in place to avoid wastage and added: “As we moved rapidly to telephoning our appointments, the refusal is most likely to be at that point and not from people who do not turn up for the agreed appointment.”
NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde deferred our query to the Scottish Government.
A spokesperson for NHS Tayside said: “In healthcare settings any unopened vaccine is returned to the fridge while staff would contact nearby wards to find eligible frontline staff to prevent wastage.” NH S Highland said in most cases all vaccines were able to be used for first doses with ‘minimal wastage.’
The World Health Organisation say some wastage of vaccines is to be expected and generally occurs due to errors in storage and transportation, through errors in immunisation workers’ practices or because unused doses from multi-dose vials are thrown away.
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NHS Fife said it had “well-practised” procedures in place to ensure that waste vaccine is minimised.
In England, some estimates have suggested that as many as 150,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine may have been dumped with some GPs claiming they were being advised to discard unused second doses.
Scots GPs will mainly be administering the Oxford-AstraZeneca to the elderly and patients with underlying health conditions which does not present as many logistical challenges.
A spokeswoman for the Scottish Government said: “The wastage rate for any vaccine will depend on the characteristics of the vaccine, logistical issues with cold chain or storage failure, clinical situations.
“As with any vaccine programme, appropriate protocols, training and supervision are in place within Health Boards to minimise wastage in the Covid programme.
“Our planning assumption is 5% wastage, to account for worst case scenarios, in line with global best practice.
“Our wastage estimate so far is 1.82%, so well below that.
“We will consider whether to include regular reporting on vaccine wastage as part of our regular vaccination statistics.”
The UK is said to leading in the vaccination race with around 3 million jags administered, more than any other European country and was first to approve the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, on December 2
Italy is second with around 900,000 vaccines given while world leader Israel is said to have administered 24 per 100 people.