Over 4,000 people who received vaccines at the mass-vaccination site at the Oakland Coliseum on Monday may have received the wrong dose amount, according to a new report. The under-dosing may not lead to any issues with COVID immunity, officials say, however it does mean the syringes being used are leading to at least 1,000 wasted vaccine doses per day.
KTVU broke the news about the issue on Wednesday, after medical personnel working at the Coliseum site contacted the station out of concern that the story was being swept under the rug. At issue are some cheap syringes that reportedly leave behind 0.05 mL to 0.1 mL of vaccine fluid behind when their plungers are fully pressed down. Before staff at the site realized the issue on Monday afternoon, some 4,200 people had passed through and likely received less than the optimal 0.3 mL dose of vaccine — somewhere around 0.2 mL to 0.25 mL, depending on how hard the person administering it pressed the plunger.
The problem was reportedly rectified with the syringes being filled slightly more, but this means vaccine continues to be wasted — and there are slightly more expensive, spring-loaded syringes that could be used instead, medical personnel say.
KTVU says that authorities from the California Office of Emergency Services and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the agencies running the Coliseum site, did not learn of the issue until KTVU informed them on Tuesday. As KTVU reports, "Cal OES spokesman Brian Ferguson said that because the whistleblowers brought the issue to light, high-level meetings were held Tuesday afternoon among their agencies, as well as the state Department of Public Health, U.S. Health and Human Services and Pfizer, to determine what to do."
Ferguson said that all parties involved concluded that the leftover vaccine in the syringes was "negligible," and vaccinated individuals did not need to be informed of the issue. Pfizer says that unless individuals received less than half the optimal amount, their levels of immunity should not be impacted.
Dr. John Swartzberg, clinical professor emeritus of infectious diseases and vaccinology at UC Berkeley Public Health, tells KTVU that the jury is still out, scientifically, on what the impact of a lesser first dose might be. And he suggests that those individuals who may have received the lesser amount may want to consider getting a booster shot in a few months.
Still, the issue of wasted vaccine when we're talking about this scale of wastage is a cause for major concern at a time when vaccine supplies are still lagging. Just this week we learned that Sutter Health had to postpone upwards of 40,000 second-dose appointments due to delayed supplies. And restaurant workers in San Francisco and Alameda counties are scrambling to try to get vaccines as restaurants reopen for indoor dining, but due to low supplies most of them haven't been able to get appointments while teachers are also competing and getting priority access codes.
If each of these syringes is leaving behind 0.05 mL to 0.1 mL of vaccine every time a shot is administered, and assuming more than 7,000 shots are being given there each day, that would mean that upwards of 1,750 extra shots are going to waste daily as long as the site keeps using these cheap syringes.
One of KTVU's sources who is administering shots at the site says they are now using a mix of the cheap syringes and the less wasteful spring-loaded ones.
Related: SF Teachers and Restaurant Workers Now Vying for Vaccine Appointments, With Teachers Getting First Dibs
Photo: Dennis Klicker