The vaccine 'pizza box' - how Sunderland vaccination teams make sure doses are not wasted

Ambulance staff, cleaners and ‘random people’ could find themselves at the front of the queue for a coronavirus vaccine under Sunderland’s zero waste policy.

Friday, 12th March 2021, 5:58 pm
Updated Friday, 12th March 2021, 6:00 pm
Sunderland is seen as one of the best areas for rolling out the vaccine.

Health chiefs for the city are preparing to pass the milestone of 100,000 jabs dished out since the programme started late last year (2020).

But while officially the most vulnerable to the disease have been prioritised for appointments, bosses have revealed how anyone could find themselves in line for one, in the right circumstances.

“What we call a ‘pizza box’ has 1,170 doses [of the Pfizer vaccine] in,” said Dr Fadi Khalil, a GP, vice chairman of Sunderland Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) and one of the leaders of Wearside’s vaccine roll out.

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“We have to factor in wastage, because if you drop a vial or a vial has got some particles in, we cannot use it.

”We don’t book the exact 1,170, to always have spare doses, just in case we cannot use that anymore, because the vials are very sensitive – drop a vial or shake it too hard, you have to bin it.

“At the end, if we’ve got doses remaining, we just want to catch anyone.”

Dr Khalil was speaking at last night’s (Wednesday, March 10) meeting of Sunderland City Council’s Health and Wellbeing Scrutiny Committee, which was held by videolink and broadcast via YouTube.

In its early days, the vaccine programme used the jab developed by the American pharmaceuticals giant Pfizer and German firm BioNTech, which, while effective in combating the spread of COVID-19, came with logistical challenges, such as a short shelf life and the need for extremely low storage temperatures.

And while the number of people not turning up for their jab appointments was small, arms were frequently in need to ensure spares did not get binned.

“Obviously, we ring patients first, we’ve got a list of patients that we can ring,” Dr Khalil added.

“But sometimes especially, back in December in January, when it was 9pm at night and it was dark and nobody wanted to come out, it was like, okay, who’s in the building?

“But in context, we’re talking about a handful out of a 1,000-dose box.”

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