Utah health care providers are being told to get rid of any of the original COVID-19 vaccine doses from Pfizer and Moderna they still have in stock following the federal government’s decision to switch to a newer formulation.
“Everybody that has any monovalent vaccine needs to take that off the shelves and dispose of it because it’s no longer recommended,” said Rich Lakin, Utah Department of Health and Human Services immunization director.
The advisory comes after the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention determined this week that only bivalent COVID-19 vaccines are authorized for use in the United States.
The federal agencies also approved allowing additional updated COVID-19 booster shots for anyone 65 and older if it’s been at least four months since their last updated dose, as well as those who are immunocompromised and, in some cases, as young as 6 months old.
It’s not clear how many unused doses there are in Utah of the original COVID-19 vaccines utilizing new mRNA technology that are being replaced. They’re referred to as monovalent because they only target the original strain of the virus
As of April 13, Lakin said Utah had received nearly 8.4 million doses of both the original and the updated COVID-19 vaccines and 71% of those — nearly 6 million shots — have been administered.
Like the rest of the country, Utahns have shown little interest in the updated booster shots.
While more than 64% of all Utahns have completed the initial series of COVID-19 shots, just over 15% have also been boosted with the updated vaccine. Nationally, more than 69% have gotten initial shots and just under 17%, the updated booster.
“I haven’t given a shot in probably two months,” Utah pharmacist Tad Jolley, the owner of Jolley’s Pharmacy Redwood in West Jordan, said, adding that demand was “sporadic before that.”
Jolley, who orders his COVID-19 vaccine through the same federal program that supplies large pharmacy chains, said he stopped stocking the original monovalent shots several months ago after what he had on hand expired.
“I don’t want to stockpile vaccine that’s just going to get wasted,” he said.
The changes made by the federal government are intended to help simplify COVID-19 vaccinations as the nation moves to offering a newly updated dose every fall, when Americans are already used to getting their annual flu shots.
Those who are older and immunocompromised are expected to continue to be able to get additional doses of the COVID-19 vaccine. Anyone getting the shots for the first time would likely be given a single shot of the bivalent vaccine.
Lakin said the state isn’t planning to push older and immunocompromised Utahns to seek out another dose now but does plan on a fall campaign aimed at encouraging everyone to get what will be a newly updated vaccine.
“There is just not a lot of vaccinations going on right now for bivalent and there’s no reason, I think, to add to the confusion,” he said, echoing statements made before the federal government’s decision by state epidemiologist Dr. Leisha Nolen.
“Really, my recommendation would be that it would almost be best to hold off, unless somebody over the age of 65 or immunocompromised really feels like they should receive the bivalent booster now. They can go ahead and do that,” Lakin said.
But the department’s promotion of the shots as a way to protect against hospitalization and death from the virus will wait until the fall, when COVID-19 is anticipated to spread the most, he said.
The hope is that vaccination rates in the state will pick up then, Lakin said, especially among older and medically vulnerable Utahns who are considered most at risk from COVID-19. Less than half of Utahns over 70 have received a bivalent booster shot.
“You’re going to have people that aren’t going to get it at all, which is fine,” he said. “But if we can get those that are at highest risk, a higher percentage of them, vaccinated, I think that’s really the goal.”
“People don’t just jump and get a vaccine. You’ve got a lot of people that are kind of wait and see. It’ll take some time,” Lakin said, adding, “COVID is going to be around forever and it’s just something we’re going to have to deal with now, like we do with flu.”