Vaccine clinics create 'emergency call' lists when they have leftover COVID-19 doses

NOW: Vaccine clinics create ’emergency call’ lists when they have leftover COVID-19 doses

OCONOMOWOC, Wis. (CBS 58) -- COVID-19 doses are a "very precious resource." That's the message the Department of Health Services' deputy secretary is sending to vaccinators. So what happens when there are extra doses? 

"Once you've opened a vial and reconstituted it, you cannot put it back in the refrigerator or the freezer. You have to use all the doses in that vial," said deputy secretary Julie Willems Van Dijk. "This is not like most of our other childhood vaccines that you just take them out of the fridge when you need them and put them back."

Western Lakes Fire District is one of the fire departments in Waukesha County currently vaccinating people in Phases 1a or 1b. Currently, they are vaccinating health care workers and law enforcement officers. They've administered about 3,000 doses over the last two weeks.

Chief Brad Bowen's clinic uses the Pfizer vaccine, and he said managing the logistics can be tricky.

"Once it's diluted, we've got six hours to get it in an arm," Bowen said.

Bowen said the staff members only take vials out of the fridge based on the exact number of people coming in that day to get vaccinated.

"It's very valuable, and that's why I'm very proud to say that we haven't let one vaccine go to waste," Bowen said.

However, he said, sometimes Pfizer's five-dose vials actually have six doses inside, leading to extra doses at the end of the day. When that happens, the clinics follow guidance from the state.

"If you're getting to the end of the day and you have some vials with unused vaccine, what we have asked our vaccinators to do is find someone who wants the vaccine and get it in their arm -- preferably someone who's in one of the eligible groups, but if that is not possible, look around and find someone who does want to receive vaccine," Willems Van Dijk said.

She said some health care systems are keeping waiting lists of people they can call at the end of the day.

Bowen said his clinic has an emergency call list of municipal or other essential workers who want the shots.

"Does that lead to people who are not in 1a or 1b getting the vaccine in some cases?" CBS 58's Rose Schmidt asked.

"In some cases," Bowen said. "There are times that somebody from our utility department or electric utility -- we have to keep power on in the community. They didn't fit into that criteria, but they are essential and if we don't have a 1a or a 1b at the moment, we're going to put that in their arm versus letting a vaccine go to waste."

Willems Van Dijk said aside from the incident at Aurora Medical Center in Grafton, where a former employee is accused of spoiling more than 500 doses, very few vials in Wisconsin have gone to waste.

"There have been a couple of incidences of a few vials lost that were left out too long.... There was one report of a lost vial in transport. But it's been very small. Only a few vials," Willems Van Dijk said.

Some other states have started lottery systems where people can sign up to get leftover doses. Willems Van Dijk said said Wisconsin doesn't have a statewide health system, so there isn't a way to create such a system.

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