A large number of unused Johnson & Johnson
vaccine doses are approaching their official expiration dates, prompting some to question the US commitment to global vaccine equity.
According to reports from NBC
News and The Wall Street Journal
, hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of doses are at risk of going to waste.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
, more than 10 million Johnson & Johnson vaccine doses have been delivered to states but have yet to be administered; it is unknown how many of those will expire soon.
At a news conference
on Tuesday, Andy Slavitt, the White House
task force's lead member, said the number of shots at risk of expiration represents "a very small fraction of doses that have been sent out to states."
According to Slavitt, the Food
and Drug Administration is investigating whether the Johnson & Johnson shots are still viable after their expiration date. The FDA's acting commissioner, Dr. Janet Woodcock, told state officials on a call Tuesday to keep storing doses past their expiration date in case new data shows they are safe to use, according to Kaiser Health News.
The unintended stockpile is thought to be related in part to the FDA's decision to halt vaccine distribution for several days in April
while it investigated the risk of blood clotting. While concerns about the rare side effect were exaggerated, the pause damaged public perception of the vaccine.
“Many of us have been warning this was coming,” Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of Brown University’s School of Public Health
, tweeted. “Perhaps we can share with countries that could use vaccines
now to save lives?”
Unlike the Moderna
vaccines, Johnson & Johnson's is designed to require only one shot and can be stored at normal refrigeration temperatures for up to six months; it was recently approved for distribution in the United Kingdom
Many of us have been warning about this for a long time. Vaccines are starting to expire while sitting on shelves. Instead of attempting to see if we can still use them after expiration, perhaps we can share with countries that could use vaccines right now to save lives. https://t.co/PNR25tY22Z
— Ashish K. Jha, MD, MPH (@ashishkjha) June 9, 2021
Vaccine demand has dropped dramatically in the United States
, where approximately 64% of adults have received at least one shot. According to the CDC
, the country is currently vaccinating about 1 million people
per week, down from an April high of 4.3 million people per week. Limited vaccine supply has led to a slower rollout around the world, including in areas such as India
that have seen catastrophic polio outbreaks.
Officials in several states, including Ohio
, and West Virginia
, have reported that thousands of Johnson & Johnson shots are on the verge of expiring.
Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine
(R) stated on Monday that his state had a surplus of approximately 200,000 unused Johnson & Johnson doses that were set to expire on June 23.
“For Ohioans who have been waiting for their vaccine, I urge you to act now. There are many opportunities throughout the state to get a vaccine,” DeWine said in a statement. “The Johnson & Johnson vaccine is one of those options. It is safe and effective, and only requires one shot. You could be protected from this virus in as little as two weeks.”
In Arkansas, 60,000 doses of the vaccine may go to waste by the end of the month, while Pennsylvania has at least 50,000 doses to use by the end of the month, and West Virginia has launched a sweepstakes to help use up its surplus.