RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — Roughly 135,000 unused doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine in North Carolina that were set to expire in two weeks will now last a little while longer in the state’s refrigerators.
“It kind of helps us not necessarily feel so tragic about a situation of wasting a resource that’s desperately needed,” said Ryan Jury, Wake County’s vaccine branch director.
The Food and Drug Administration on Thursday extended the expiration dates by an extra six weeks. Thousands of doses of the single-shot COVID-19 vaccine were in danger of expiring — and perhaps being thrown away — later this month. The J&J product, which previously expired three months after being produced, now expires 4 1/2 months after it’s made, the company said in a statement.
North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services spokeswoman Catie Armstrong says the state has about 135,000 doses of the J&J vaccine that before Thursday’s announcement would have expired by June 24.
In a statement, she said before the expiration extension was announced that the state’s plan to “lower the risk of the vaccines expiring before they are used” involved a first-in, first-out strategy in which providers would use vaccines in the order they arrive, sending them to providers who can use them faster and offering them to other states and federal partners.
Jury says those changing expiration dates are common among new vaccines.
“I think what we’re seeing is really time that we wish we had had before, but it was a crisis,” Jury said. “And as we move forward, as the data supports the stability of the product and its efficacy in reducing deaths and hospitalizations, and being viable. Really, this is just good news for us to continue to know a little bit more about how we can store and use these vaccines in our communities.”
The Johnson & Johnson announcement came as states around the country were dealing with the possibility of having to discard those doses in the coming weeks.
Ohio Gov. Mike Dewine had said 200,000 doses would be thrown out on June 24 if no other groups took them. The number is roughly 100,000 in Arizona and slightly fewer than that in Arkansas, with a tenth of those initially not set to expire until July 4.
Doses were stuck in the refrigerator for two reasons: Slowing demand overall, and the effects of the 11-day pause earlier this spring when a small number of reports of blood clots were associated with the vaccine.
Of the 4.6 million people in North Carolina who have had one shot — of either the single-dose J&J product or the first of two rounds of Pfizer or Moderna — just 6.7 percent have received the J&J vaccine, a CBS17.com data analysis found.
Wake County spokeswoman Stacy Beard says the county had an inventory of 4,740 J&J doses that would have expired June 23. UNC Health spokeswoman Carleigh Gabryel says her health system has about 900 doses that also would have expired that day.
Beard says the county is transferring doses to providers around the Triangle, and using them in a rotating travel park program — where the department brings vaccines to parks — and in community and neighborhood events for which returning for a second dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine would seem impractical.
“They’re also looking at the opportunity to say, ‘Hey, we’re in a unique setting. We’re in a park, right? A supermarket. Maybe PNC Arena,” Jury said. “Maybe it’s not likely for us to come back and give you your second-dose products, so also offering Johnson & Johnson to the community that way.”