CORONAVIRUS

Iowa to receive fewer coronavirus vaccine doses than expected

Move comes as FDA says extra doses can be obtained from vials

Pharmacy technician Suzanne Eagan shakes a vial of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine before drawing a dose for a heal
Pharmacy technician Suzanne Eagan shakes a vial of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine before drawing a dose for a health care worker Monday at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics in Iowa City. (Andy Abeyta/The Gazette)
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Iowa learned Wednesday the state will receive as much as 30 percent fewer doses of COVID-19 vaccines than previously expected.

The news comes as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said pharmacists can draw additional doses from vials of the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine, expanding the country’s supply by millions of doses.

The Iowa Department of Public Health made the announcement Wednesday evening after other states had reported they, too, were told by the federal government to expect fewer doses of the vaccine than previously estimated.

No reason for the drop in doses was given in a state public health department news release.

Iowa initially expected 172,000 doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines during the month of December, state officials said. A 30 percent reduction would drop that figure to just more than 120,000 doses.

The first doses of the COVID-19 vaccines are being made available to Iowa’s hospital workers and residents and staff at long-term care facilities such as nursing homes.

The state public health department said it is working to confirm the numbers and get additional details from the federal government, and will provide updates.

“It will take us some time to work through next steps and adjust our planning,” a department statement said.

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A state public health department spokeswoman said Wednesday night the department is sorting through both issues, and will follow up with more information when it’s available.

The FDA on Wednesday said pharmacists began to notice vials contain more than the expected five doses.

The FDA is in touch with Pfizer about how to handle this issue, the agency said. In the meantime, regulators say those extra doses from a single vial can be used but not pooled from multiple vials.

“At this time, given the public health emergency, FDA is advising that it is acceptable to use every full dose obtainable (the sixth, or possibly even a seventh) from each vial, pending resolution of the issue,” an agency spokesman said, confirming news first reported by Politico.

That means the supply of remaining vaccines could be up to 40 percent greater — though the drugmaker cautions it’s uncertain how many extra doses are available.

“The amount of vaccine remaining in the multidose vial after removal of five doses can vary, depending on the type of needles and syringes used,” Pfizer spokeswoman Sharon Castillo said in a statement.

Meanwhile federal health officials said Wednesday they are in talks with Pfizer to purchase tens of millions of additional doses this spring after the drug company said the United States would probably would have to wait until summer.

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said he is “very optimistic” about negotiations in which federal officials are trying to help Pfizer ramp up production to meet the government’s demand for the second quarter of 2021.

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“We are working with them to provide them whatever assistance, now that they have identified some of the production challenges,” Azar said at a Wednesday briefing.

The negotiations come after Pfizer told the Trump administration that other countries have rushed to buy most of the supply that will be available in the second quarter of the year.

The federal government turned down an opportunity as recently as October to double its purchase of 100 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, the first authorized for use in the United States, over disagreements on delivery dates.

Federal officials have insisted they have enough doses with other vaccines likely to receive emergency authorization, including the Moderna vaccine, which is expected to be cleared by regulators in the coming days.

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