‘Simply immoral’: Ontario pharmacists poised to trash thousands of expiring Moderna doses as demand declines
TORONTO -- For Toronto pharmacist Kyro Maseh, the thought of tossing a life-saving vaccine into the trash is gut-wrenching.
But the owner of Lawlor Pharmasave on Kingston Road will soon have to throw away about 350 doses of Moderna “liquid gold,” as he puts it, if he can’t find arms for the shots before they expire August 2.
“It is just simply immoral, just sinful,” Maseh said Friday. “This could have saved a lot of lives in other countries.”
The Moderna COVID-19 vaccine only lasts 30 days in pharmacy fridges, and must be discarded if not administered by then. However, demand for the brand in Ontario is declining, due in part to skepticism about mixing and matching doses and misinformation about Moderna.
“The answer is simple,” said Maseh. “Just send it to countries that need it.”
But there is no protocol in place for donating soon-to-expire shots to jurisdictions starving for COVID-19 vaccines, partially due to strict quality control and cold chain custody requirements.
“While it is a shame if we do end up wasting, the extraction is very complex once the supply is distributed into the channel,” Justin Bates, CEO of the Ontario Pharmacists Association, told CTV Toronto.
“It’s not a simple solution once it’s in the fridge in the pharmacy.”
Bates estimates that thousands of doses could soon be forced to hit the trash in Ontario pharmacies as demand diminishes.
The Ontario Ministry of Health told CTV Toronto that it is working with local partners to redistribute doses to areas in need, as well as with federal partners “to explore vaccine donation opportunities in the future.”
Health Canada, meanwhile, said that work is underway to develop options for excess doses, particularly in certified depots where integrity can be assured.
“What I think needs to happen is the doses need to be reallocated from the top,” Ontario pharmacist Kristen Watt told CTV Toronto Friday. “So before they land on Canadian soil, they need to be redirected to where they need to go.”
Watt herself has had to toss expired COVID-19 vaccines, which she describes as “moral injury” for pharmacists.
But she said she’s trying to focus on celebrating each additional dose given, at this point, rather than doses lost.
“If I can open one vial and give it to a person that was previously vaccine-hesitant, before they have a [COVID-19] exposure, that is a life that I have potentially saved, rather than focusing on the five or 10 doses I may have lost in that vial,” Watt said.
Maseh, meanwhile, said he is prepared to drive his expiring doses anywhere he can to prevent them from going to waste.
“For so long they were liquid gold,” he said. “But they still are in many jurisdictions, and we need to keep that in mind.”