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Madrid region has thrown away over 100,000 Covid-19 vaccines that passed their use-by date

The health department binned 117,977 doses between December 2020 and October of this year, 106,534 of which had expired while the rest were damaged or spoiled

A senior in Madrid receives a Covid-19 booster shot and flu vaccine, in a file photo from October 2021.
A senior in Madrid receives a Covid-19 booster shot and flu vaccine, in a file photo from October 2021.Marta Fernández Jara (Europa Press)

The regional government of Madrid has admitted that it discarded 117,977 Covid-19 vaccine doses between December 27, 2020 – when the vaccination campaign began – and October 29 of this year for a variety of reasons.

Most of the doses (106,534) were thrown out because they were “past their deadline for administration to patients,” according to a reply by the Madrid Health Department to an information request through the Transparency Portal.

The rest of the vials were discarded “due to damage or incidents in the cold chain,” according to a document first reported on by the Cadena SER radio network. In all, the discarded vaccines represent slightly over 1% of all doses sent to Madrid by the Health Ministry, according to Cadena SER’s calculations.

The acknowledgment comes despite months-long complaints from the Spanish region that it was not receiving enough doses from the ministry. In May, shipments began to pick up speed and Madrid dropped near the bottom of the list of territories in terms of administration rates.

Enough for 77,000 people

Madrid authorities threw out 47,450 units of Janssen – the single-dose vaccine from Johnson & Johnson – as well as 41,270 Oxford-AstraZeneca doses, 17,070 Moderna doses and 744 Pfizer-BioNTech doses, because they had expired.

Problems with the cold chain also led the health department to discard 10,254 doses of Pfizer, 919 of AstraZeneca and 270 of Janssen.

Together, all these discarded doses could have immunized nearly 77,000 people, taking into account the fact that Janssen requires one shot while the others need two.

This is the first time that Madrid has admitted to discarding Covid-19 vaccines. In September, the government of Catalonia acknowledged that it had more than 69,000 expired doses in storage. At that time, Madrid health authorities were suggesting that their own region did not have such a problem: a department spokesperson said in September that “for two weeks we have been taking the doses closest to their expiration date to the front lines of vaccine administration, so they will be used before the rest.”

The ministry’s fault

Queried about the recent revelations, a health department spokesperson blamed the Health Ministry, saying that its changes in criteria for administering the AstraZeneca and Janssen vaccines have affected all of Spain’s regions, which have devolved powers over health and are in charge of running their own vaccination campaigns.

“Vaccines are going to expire in the Madrid region because the Health Ministry is focusing on Pfizer and has not allowed [us] to keep vaccinating with AstraZeneca or Janssen, indicating the need to administer second doses of mRNA vaccines [Pfizer or Moderna] to citizens who had received AstraZeneca or Janssen,” said the spokesperson. “For this reason, around 100,000 doses are going to expire in Madrid, as 90% of them are Janssen or AstraZeneca. Madrid consulted with the Health Ministry about returning them for potential donations, but the ministry ruled this out, indicating they should be destroyed.”

Donations

Meanwhile, the Health Ministry told Cadena SER that “with enough margin, no vaccine should be thrown out” and that when Madrid offered to return doses made by Janssen, it was too close to the expiration date to make a donation to a third country.

According to the ministry, receiving countries do not accept vaccines with expiration dates of under three months because of the complexity involved in the shipment, distribution and administration of the doses. And the COVAX vaccine access program run by the World Health Organization (WHO) “only accepts doses directly from the manufacturer.”

Other regions

As for other regions of Spain, the Basque Country said it had only discarded 36 units because they had expired, representing a mere 0.00098% of the total. In Andalusia, a health department source said that “no vaccine has expired and none are close to their expiration date, since we are now administering them on demand and they are all being used.”

Navarre, Cantabria and Castilla-La Mancha also denied having thrown out any doses because of expiration issues. And authorities in the Valencia region said that “the doses near their expiration dates are sent back to the ministry.” These sources said that 240,000 doses have been returned for this reason.

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