MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. (WMBF) - COVID-19 vaccine providers in South Carolina must now extract six doses from Pfizer’s vials after being labeled as containing five at the beginning of the vaccine rollout.
A letter sent to providers by the state’s Department of Health and Environmental Control said that the federal government is funding six doses per vial, and “providers are expected to pull at least six doses from every Pfizer vial so as not to waste vaccine.”
This means order requests for a typical tray of 975 doses are being recorded as 1,170 doses.
Using this sixth dose isn’t something new for many providers. Tidelands Health and Conway Medical Center, for example, have worked to consistently draw out six doses from each vial that passes through their administrators’ hands. It takes technique and precise needles to make sure no drop goes to waste.
“Our team recognized very early on that we would be able to get additional doses per vial, and went to our leadership,” said Allyson Floyd, a CMC spokesperson. “Our leadership agreed to spend the money to purchase these needles that we need to use to be able to make sure that we can get six doses per vial, so that we make sure we use every bit of medicine that is allocated to us.”
Both hospitals had taken to supplementing with their own purchased needles to make sure these doses were used. Now that these extra doses will be recorded officially, supplies are supposed to match that number.
“We’re told we’ll receive it, and they have updated their supply allocation against this new math,” said Gayle Resetar, COO for Tidelands Health. “So we’ll see. Every week’s a new week.”
If these doses are not used, it’s tracked as waste.
“If vaccine providers do not achieve a sixth dose beginning February 16, it must be documented as waste in VAMS,” the letter read. DHEC’s letter also noted that “wastage may go up” in this transition.
“We’re not that concerned about that,” said Resetar. “But I think there are providers out there that are concerned about that because they don’t want to be on the list of health systems or providers that have wasted any vaccine. But it does require the right needle and the right technique to be able to get six doses.”
As of Feb. 24, DHEC said the state had seen over 3,600 Pfizer and Moderna doses go to waste. When asked if this included any of these sixth doses from the Pfizer vials, DHEC said that “as of February 19, information about Pfizer doses should be recorded using six doses.”
DHEC told WMBF Investigates the data is available through VAMS and is not tracked from a county, city or regional perspective.
Shifting vaccine allocation data provided on DHEC’s website makes it next to impossible to know accurately how many vaccines may have been left over after being utilized for first and second doses.
Essentially, knowing just how many sixth doses have been “wasted” before federal and state officials said that they should be recorded as such, is unknown.