The people administering Covid-19 vaccines are being told to throw away doses as not enough people are coming forward for their first jab.
Attempts to use leftover doses on people awaiting second jabs are being frustrated because of the strict adherence to guidance saying they must be administered eight weeks apart, sources said.
The Joint Committee for Vaccination and Immunisation recommends an interval of eight to 12 weeks between doses for all the available Covid-19 vaccines as studies suggest it offers greater immunity.
“For the last two weeks we have literally been throwing the vaccine into the bin,” said one anonymous vaccinator in the North East, which recorded the largest increase in Covid patient admissions across England in the week to July 18.
They added that most people who want their first dose have already come forward and they are “disheartened” and “frustrated” at the current situation, where “hesitancy” is stopping people from receiving the vaccine.
More than 87 per cent of the population have received their first vaccination, but that falls to just below 60 per cent for those aged 18 to 25.
Following the guidance
“Some [people] aren’t turning up because they’ve had a vaccine elsewhere,” said the source, adding: “It is a shame because poorer countries are desperate for vaccines.”
The source said they have been strictly told to follow the eight-week guidance and in some cases that means throwing doses away instead of giving them to people earlier than that.
They added: “We all feel very sad because at the end of the day we have to do it this way.”
In Cambridge, ITV reported that a small number of Pfizer vaccines were being thrown away at the end of the day as people who wanted their second jab before the eight week interval were turned away.
News that doses are systematically being binned comes amid calls for the eight week interval between the shots to be reduced to avoid waste.
Paul Hunter, professor of medicine at the University of East Anglia, said reducing the interval for the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines for younger people could be beneficial.
He told The Telegraph: “It may well be the case as we open up that if we are giving younger people that extra immunity earlier on, then that might actually help slow the rate [of infection] or even reverse it in cases.”
He added: “Particularly as we open up, that might be important in helping to slow the pandemic.”
Young people need the jab
Dr Rosemary Leonard, an NHS GP, wrote on Twitter: “Please, please, could young people be allowed to get their vaccines earlier than eight weeks. Numerous colleagues telling me of 100’s of doses being thrown away, yet ‘early requesters’ at clinics being turned down.”
The GP also wrote that she heard of one clinic that had to bin “1,000 doses of Pfizer” as it had expired, while "turning people away for second dose.”
She urged people to “rally support” for the interval to be reduced to four weeks, asking: “Why refuse it to young people when doses are being thrown away?”
The British Medical Association, the doctors’ trade union, said a “flexible, pragmatic approach” to the eight-week interval should be adopted if the alternative meant “throwing perfectly good vaccinations down the drain.”
The Pfizer vaccine’s second dose is licensed for use by the manufacturer after 21 days, with the second dose for Moderna and Astrazeneca licensed for use after 28 days.
Once thawed the Pfizer and Moderna shots have a maximum shelf life of up to one month in the fridge, whereas the AstraZeneca vaccine can last for up to six months.
Longer wait means greater immunity
A study from the Department of Health and the University of Oxford found that people who wait longer to get the second dose of their Pfizer vaccine have greater immunity for long-term protection against Covid-19.
Covid-19 infections have now reached the highest level for people in their twenties since the pandemic began.
An NHS spokesperson said: “The NHS allocates vaccines in line with independent clinical advice and provides vaccines to each local area based on their population size. We have been absolutely clear that jabs should go to those who need a first dose, as well as a second dose at eight weeks and only in line with clinical JCVI guidance, while avoiding any wastage.
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “No vaccines should go to waste and we have been clear that local vaccination sites should be managing their appointment lists to ensure all vaccination slots are filled and so they have a back-up list of patients and staff who can receive a jab at short notice.”