Exclusive Expiring Astra Zeneca Covid vaccines will be collected from GP vaccination centres in order to be destroyed, the Government has revealed to Pulse.
The admission comes after Pulse revealed last week that ‘tens of thousands’ of excess doses due to expire this week risked being wasted as planned NHS England collections were ‘seriously delayed’.
Although GPs have now been told the collections will begin imminently, Pulse has learned that regulatory barriers prevent the doses from being donated overseas.
A Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) spokesperson told Pulse on background that surplus doses that cannot be used before collection will be returned and disposed of.
They added that any potential donation of the vaccines to another country would have been outside the regulatory supply chain, beyond the terms of the product’s authorisation and outside the terms of Public Health England’s (PHE) wholesale export licence.
Any country receiving a donation of doses would have faced serious legal problems domestically, they said.
In a statement, they reiterated that ‘robust measures’ have been put in place to keep vaccine wastage ‘to an absolute minimum’ and that the Government is ‘looking at options to further reduce waste for vaccines which may expire’.
They added: ‘The UK government rightly developed a vaccination programme that could protect the entire adult population, including ordering doses to cover all eligible people, whilst supporting equitable access to vaccines worldwide.’
Pulse understands that GPs were informed last week that collection of the vaccine doses would start ‘immediately’, potentially over the bank holiday weekend.
It remains unclear whether the collections have gone ahead and how many of the excess vaccines have been removed from PCN vaccination centres.
GPs were also asked to record the quantity of unused vaccines collected as well as their expiry dates on NHS England’s Foundry stock tracker, Pulse understands.
NHS England began asking vaccination sites for data on excess doses in May, and had advised that it would ‘collect the vaccine and hope to move it internationally’, a GP whistle-blower previously told Pulse.
The GP, who wished to remain anonymous, said that the jabs have not been used due to the policy of offering under-40s an alternative vaccine to mitigate the risk of blood clots.
The BMA last week said it would be ‘indefensible’ if the vaccines were ‘left to expire and be thrown away’ and said the Government must make plans to use any excess vaccines elsewhere.
The DHSC previously said that sites have been encouraged to reallocate stock at a local level, such as to walk-in and pop-up centres, to support the change in demand and that sites must continue to hold doses to ensure patients can still take up the vaccine offer.
Wastage has been far lower than expected and the Government is continuing to work to ensure that any vaccine surpluses are reallocated to other nations that require it where possible, they added.
The Government has committed to donating 100 million vaccine doses to support global recovery, with the first nine-million donation of AstraZeneca jabs announced last month.
Meanwhile, the wastage of vaccines has been a source of contention throughout the vaccination programme, with GPs investigated earlier this year for administering leftover Covid vaccine doses to patients outside eligible cohorts.
It comes as the Government announced last week that it has ordered a further 35 million Pfizer/BioNTech Covid vaccines due to arrive from the second half of next year, which could be used for potential future booster programmes.