Up to 3.5million Covid vaccine doses are set to be binned after reaching their expiry date, it was revealed today.
A leaked memo last month revealed that tens of millions of jabs sent to hospitals, GP surgeries and pharmacies in the run up to Christmas to fight Omicron had largely went unused.
Now NHS sources say more than half of the doses sent to some clinics are still ‘sitting in fridges’ amid falling demand for the booster shots.
One well-placed official estimated up to 3.5m doses are likely to be binned, based on stock counts in several English regions, the Health Service Journal reports.
And they accused officials of sending out jabs ‘way in excess of demand’ in the race to boost the nation, leaving them struggling to fill appointments.
Pfizer jabs — which make up the bulk of booster shots — had their shelf-life extended from 31 to 45 days last month to allow more time for them to reach patients.
But even with this extension, sources say these are now set to pass their use-by date and be disposed of.
Yesterday, the expiry date for thawed Moderna jabs — also used in the roll out — was extended from 30 to 60 days, but it is feared these too could expire.
The above graph shows uptake of the booster jabs by age group, compared to whole population. All over-18s are eligible for the jabs from three months after their second dose
The above graph shows the proportion of Covid booster jabs administered per 100 people in major European nations as well as the US. It reveals Britain had the highest booster uptake until late December when it was overtaken by Denmark
Primary care sources have warned many jabs are set to expire because of slowing uptake
Britain purchased another 114million Covid jabs when Omicron first hit in 2022 and 2023, which ministers said will help the country to ‘buy time’ against variants.
The UK’s booster roll out is one of the best in Europe, outpacing other nations including France and Germany.
Eight in ten out of the 39million people eligible for boosters in England have already got their top up dose, figures show.
Health chiefs extend shelf-life of Pfizer Covid vaccines by TWO WEEKS
Health chiefs extended the shelf life of Pfizer’s Covid jabs over fears millions of injections would have to be binned in mid-January.
A slowdown in the booster drive prompted concerns that life-saving doses would end up being wasted.
But NHS bosses were given permission to push back the expiry date of 20 batches of Pfizer’s vaccines by two weeks.
The batches — which are transported and stored in ultra-cold freezers — saw the time they could be kept in the fridge extended to 45 days after they are thawed. Previously, they were no longer usable after 31 days.
Officials said the move, which was approved by both Pfizer and the UK’s drug safety watchdog, would allow more patients to be vaccinated over the coming days.
NHS England did not confirm how many doses were affected, but Pfizer confirmed only the specified batches now have a 45-day shelf life.
But both the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency and Pfizer said the extension does not affect the ‘safety, quality or efficacy’ of the jabs.
Uptake is close to 90 per cent among the over-75s, who are most at risk of falling seriously ill if they catch Covid.
But among the youngest age groups it drops to as low as 30 per cent.
All over-18s who got their second dose at least three months ago are eligible for the third jab.
A primary care source — who was not named — told the HSJ their clinic was sent stocks ‘way in excess of demand’ over Christmas.
‘We’ve been told we can extend (the vaccines expiry date) for two weeks but that’s delaying the inevitable,’ they said.
‘The scale of the surplus exceeds several months of demand… the logistics pumped way too much stock into the system, double what was needed if we are representative.’
Sources warned the extension on the expiry date of some of their stocks had already lapsed, with jabs now being disposed of.
NHS England disputed that it had sent out too many doses, however, saying clinics were responsible for ordering in their own supply.
A spokeswoman said: ‘The NHS gave additional supply to sites based on their expected demand and doses requested.
‘The NHS continues to encourage people to come forward — particularly those who were unable to get their booster because they tested positive for Covid in line with JCVI advice.’
Britain’s booster drive opened to all over-50s that got their second dose at least six months ago in September.
But amid mounting concern over the Omicron variant it was opened to all over-18s to ensure the nation was protected.
Uptake sky-rocketed, averaging 850,000 doses a day in the middle of December.
But at the turn of the year, and as evidence mounted that the Omicron variant was milder than first feared, demand began to fall away.
Latest vaccination figures show an average of 44,880 booster jabs were dished out on February 2, down from 59,500 a week ago and 246,977 a month ago.
February 2’s figure was the lowest number of boosters given out in a single day since the drive began.
Around eight in ten eligible over-18s have already got their booster jabs, official figures show, barely two months after they all became eligible.
But uptake is lower in younger age groups where around 60 per cent have got their third jabs.