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Mass Vaccination Clinics In Iowa Often Have Leftover Doses, But Counties Make Sure They Don't Go To Waste

Natalie Krebs
IPR file
Vials of the Moderna vaccine sit in a cart at a Tama County vaccine clinic on Feb. 1.

Iowa has administered nearly 1 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine. Some counties are holding large-scale clinics to get the vaccine into the arms of many people quickly. Local health officials have worked to make sure no vaccine from these clinics goes to waste.

Mass clinics in counties including Cerro Gordo and Woodbury vaccinate hundreds to at least a thousand people each time. People eligible for the vaccine make appointments, but sometimes they don’t show up. Brian Hanft, the director of public health for Cerro Gordo County Public Health said the last thing he wants is to waste any vaccine.

“We always try to have some people who we can call at a minute’s notice and say, ‘we have vaccine that is remaining, we need you to get here right away’,” Hanft said.

Iowa Department of Public Health

Hanft said the people they call are among those eligible for the vaccine. Usually, the county health department has fewer than six or fewer than 11 doses left, depending on whether they’re giving out the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, and if they’ve punctured a new vaccine vial while only a few appointments remain. At earlier clinics, they drew up way more vaccine than the number of people that showed up, and had to work hard to get those doses out to people, Hanft said.

“We're kind of building this plane as we're flying it,” Hanft said. “We learned early on don't draw up a whole bunch of extra vaccines into syringes, especially toward the end of the day.”

Siouxland District Health Department in Woodbury County made a similar error when it started distributing the vaccine through its first mass clinic in February. Tyler Brock, the deputy director for Siouxland District Health, said the county health department had more than 20 doses left over after its first large-scale clinic.

“It was our first big clinic and we got smarter afterwards,” Brock said.

Since then, the health department typically has had five or fewer leftover doses by the end of a clinic, but they always find people to give it to – even those who aren’t currently eligible for the vaccine. Any extra vaccine goes to clinic volunteers, family members of someone getting vaccinated, or even people who have come in to ask if there are leftover doses.

“When you just have a small handful of doses at the end of the day that have to be used, we’ll sometimes go outside of the priority groups to make sure no vaccine is wasted,” Brock said.

Katie Peikes
IPR file
Around 1,500 people in Woodbury County received their first COVID-19 vaccine at a February mass clinic in Sioux City. Siouxland District Health Department has held a handful of mass clinics at the Tyson Events Center in part to reduce any vaccine doses that could go to waste.

Brock said giving the vaccine to people who don’t yet qualify is “not the goal going in, but ultimately we believe the most important thing is getting the vaccine into people.”

Brock and Hanft said their health departments haven’t wasted a single dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. Iowa Department of Public Health spokeswoman Sarah Ekstrand said in an email to IPR that IDPH is “unaware of any discarded doses from a mass vaccination clinic,” but a small percentage of COVID-19 vaccine doses in Iowa have been “unable to be used.” Ekstrand said 0.04 percent of the total doses administered across Iowa as of Thursday have been unusable.

“This can occur with all types of vaccines due to a needle or syringe malfunction, accident in administration (syringe or vial being dropped), broken vials, or storage and handling issues,” Ekstrand said.

Editor's note: This story has been corrected to reflect that Iowa has administered nearly 1 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine.