Vaccinators aim to avoid waste as tens of thousands of doses in state are set to expire

MADISON, Wis. – Certain batches of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine are set to expire in a couple weeks, causing concern across the countrlocal newy that they won’t be used in time.

According to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, the state has about 30,000 to 40,000 vaccines set to expire near the end of June.

In Dane County, public health officials said they’re in a good spot, accepting Johnson & Johnson doses from other distributors that may not be able to administer them in time.

“For us, we’re watching it super closely as we increase the number of mobile vaccine clinics, start to use up those J&J, we’re feeling pretty good about making sure we don’t have a ton that we have to waste,” said Tess Ellens, COVID-19 vaccine deputy with Public Health Madison & Dane County.

The Jefferson County Health Department has about 100 Johnson & Johnson doses they won’t be able to use by their expiration date, according to COVID-19 Public Information Officer Samroz Jakvani. They’re working with the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, which has a registry allowing for redistribution between vaccinators.

“We have essentially stopped vaccine clinics where we administer first doses and are wrapping up second doses,” Jakvani said. “J&J makes it possible to administer at either a first dose or second dose clinic, but we simply do not have a lot of new folks reaching out to us with interest in vaccination.”

Iowa County recently moved 130 doses to another vaccinator to avoid waste, according to Emergency Management Director Keith Hurlbert, who said that leveling inventory as such is the best way to avoid waste.

SSM Health has about 1,500 Johnson & Johnson doses in Wisconsin. Vice President of Pharmacy Services Mo Kharbat said they’re awaiting federal guidance on whether the expiration can be extended.

“The good news here, though, is Johnson and Johnson will likely meet with the FDA sometime next week to apply for an extension of the expiration date,” Kharbat said. “We don’t know if they will grant an extension, but if they do, that will be great news.”

He said an extension on expiration dates is not uncommon in the pharmaceutical industry.

“If I were to get the shot after the date, I will certainly be comfortable with it if the scientific community says the vaccine is still good,” Kharbat said.

In the meantime, SSM Health is being more active in offering Johnson & Johnson vaccines at mobile events, and Kharbat isn’t worried about securing more if needed.

DHS said they “have sufficient vaccine on hand for Wisconsin vaccinators interested in J&J.”

Kharbat said the brief pause on the Johnson & Johnson vaccine did have some initial repercussions.

“We could not use the vaccine, so that was time wasted,” Kharbat said. “We also had to deal with some hesitancy for quite some time.”

But now, both he and Ellens said they see plenty of interest in the one-shot vaccine.

“Once we got over the hump, what we’ve found is some want the Johnson & Johnson vaccine,” Kharbat said. “Some individuals, they actually drive to the nearest vaccine clinic if they know that clinic offers the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.”