75,000 expiring Johnson & Johnson vaccines in CT could be wasted, DPH says

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Connecticut has a stockpile of about 80,000 Johnson & Johnson vaccine doses, most if which will expire by June 24, the state Department of Public Health says.

Connecticut has a stockpile of about 80,000 Johnson & Johnson vaccine doses, most if which will expire by June 24, the state Department of Public Health says.

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Connecticut has tens of thousands of Johnson & Johnson COVID vaccines — and most, if not all — will be thrown away, a state health official said Thursday, despite a six-week extension of the vaccine’s shelf-life.

“Connecticut currently has roughly 80,000 doses of J&J on hand in the state, of which approximately 95 percent is set to expire between now and June 24,” state Department of Health spokesperson Maura Fitzgerald said.

That means as many as 75,000 vaccine doses may be thrown out, though the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Thursday extended the expiration dates of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine by six weeks, from three months to four-and-a-half months when refrigerated at temperatures of 36 to 46 degrees Fahrenheit.

That follows guidance issued Wednesday by President Joe Biden’s administration that providers should “quarantine” any remaining Johnson & Johnson doses, as “studies are conducted to determine if the expiration dates can be safely extended,” Fitzgerald said.

Johnson & Johnson’s single-shot COVID vaccine had been hailed as easier to administer than the two-dose vaccines made by Moderna and Pfizer.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended a pause in the administration of the Johnson & Johnson COVID vaccine following six reports of a rare blood clot in patients after they had received the shot. The pause was lifted 10 days later, on April 23, but demand for the Johnson & Johnson vaccine never returned, officials said.

“We have not ordered new Johnson & Johnson through our state allocation since the Johnson & Johnson pause in early April, which has allowed us to gradually and responsibly work through our inventory as best as we can,” Fitzgerald said.

Demand for all three approved vaccines has decreased along with the coronavirus spread in Connecticut. The state announced Thursday that 1,915,292 Connecticut residents have been fully vaccinated, and a 0.44 percent daily test positivity rate. Five fewer people are in Connecticut hospitals suffering from a coronavirus infection, the state said, though there were three more COVID-related deaths announced.

The last federal allocation of Johnson & Johnson vaccine to Connecticut was 6,400 doses on May 10, according to CDC data. In all, the state received 134,800 Johnson & Johnson doses.

By comparison, the state has been allocated 1,122,870 Pfizer first doses, and 931,400 Moderna first doses.

There is a hope, Fitzgerald said, that the remaining Johnson & Johnson doses can be used where there is still demand for COVID vaccines, but that may not be possible.

“In light of the expiring doses, we are employing a first-in, first-out strategy, filling all J&J orders through transfers from other state providers to avoid wastage,” Fitzgerald said. “Unfortunately, the reality is that we are only using roughly 3,000 doses of J&J a week, so the majority of our doses will not be used before their current expiration date.”

The expiration date extension “doesn't really change anything in terms of our approach,” Fitzgerald said. “We're going to continue to ‘spend down’ the supply we have on hand in the state, filling orders through transfers between providers and continue to use the first-in, first-out model to avoid wastage.”

Weeks ago, the state asked the federal government if those doses could be “re-deployed elsewhere, either in the U.S. or abroad where they could be put to use,” Fitzgerald said.

“Many states, however, are in a similar situation, and there does not appear to be any domestic demand for these doses,” she said.

There is some hope for those once-prized vaccine doses. Fitzgerald said, “we will continue to work diligently with our providers to use as many doses as possible before their current expiration dates.”

The Biden administration announced Wednesday that it would buy 500 million Pfizer doses to export overseas over the next two years.