J&J says it's working to extend the shelf-life of its Covid-19 vaccine so doses don't expire

By Lauren Mascarenhas and Naomi Thomas, CNN

    (CNN) -- As some states report they have Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccine doses that are expiring before they get used, the company and federal officials say they're looking at whether expiration dates can be extended -- and whether the doses could be put to use elsewhere.

"We're working very hard, both at the federal level and at the local level, to do everything we can to make sure that these vaccines can be used and deployed in the very best possible way," Johnson & Johnson Chairman and CEO Alex Gorsky said Wednesday during a Wall Street Journal Tech Health event.

"The good news was we got a lot of vaccines out to meet this initial surge in demand and now making sure we get the very best possible deployment and allocation, and the distribution system gets even more agile, more flexible -- not only here in the United States, between states, but in fact around the world -- will be work that we need to continue to stay focused on in the weeks and months ahead."

"We have pulled expired vaccine from active inventory and are in the process of following CDC guidance on proper disposal," Keith Reed, deputy commissioner at the Oklahoma state Department of Health, told CNN.

" Also, as of last week, we had roughly 80,000 Johnson & Johnson vaccine doses that would expire if not used by the end of the month, though that number is less now as we work through vaccine."

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told CNN on Wednesday that the US Food and Drug Administration is looking into whether the expiration date on Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccines can be extended and if so, how to make use of the doses.

"The FDA is looking into that right now, trying to determine if, in fact, the date can be extended or not and if so, can we get them properly utilized, whether it's utilized in the United States or elsewhere," Fauci said. "This is something that the FDA is very much on and looking at very, very carefully."

Johnson & Johnson said in a statement to CNN on Tuesday that it's conducting stability testing "with the goal of extending the amount of time our COVID-19 vaccine can be stored before expiry." The J&J vaccine can be stored for up to three months at refrigerator temperatures, but longer if frozen.

Of the 21.4 million doses of the single-shot J&J vaccine delivered in the US, about 11 million have been administered, according to data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Danyelle McNeill, public information officer for the Arkansas Department of Health, said the state has received 163,000 doses of J&J's Janssen vaccine and administered 69,501 of them. About 65,000 doses are set to expire by Sept. 30.

The pace of vaccination has slowed in recent weeks. Among the US population eligible to be vaccinated -- people 12 and older -- nearly half are fully vaccinated.

On Tuesday, White House Covid-19 adviser Andy Slavitt said "it's not realistic to expect that not a single dose will go to waste," but a "very, very small fraction" of Covid-19 vaccine doses sent to states will ultimately not be used. He added that doses that go to waste will not affect the United States' ability to fulfill its commitment to distribute vaccines globally.

Slavitt said they're "working aggressively" to get doses administered, and encouraged states to work with the FDA on storage solutions.

Federal officials "would encourage every governor who has doses that they worry may be expiring to work with the FDA directly on the proper storage procedures ... as they continue to examine processes that will allow the doses to potentially last longer, as they go through those trials," he said.

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine said in a news release this week that 200,000 doses of the state's J&J vaccine are set to expire before the end of the month, and the state is unable to share the doses with other states or countries.

Retired Arkansas National Guard Col. Rob Ator, who has been overseeing Arkansas' vaccine distribution, told KATV last week that he stopped ordering the J&J vaccine for the state, because they have so many unused doses.

"It's an all-hands-on-deck kind of a theory to get the vaccine out, but there is the potential in the future that we would have large scale wastage," he said.

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