RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — With demand for the COVID-19 vaccines dropping in North Carolina and across the country, at least the thousands of unused doses aren’t in danger of spoiling soon — as long as they’re properly stored.
“I’m not worried it will go bad,” said Dr. David Weber of the University of North Carolina’s School of Medicine.
Of the three vaccines currently authorized for emergency use, the single-shot Johnson & Johnson product has the longest shelf life, with the company saying it can keep for two years if stored at minus-4 degrees — or, roughly the temperature of an average household freezer.
The two-dose Pfizer and Moderna vaccines each can last six months if properly stored. While the Moderna vaccine also can be kept at minus-4 degrees, the Pfizer one requires much lower temperatures — an ultra-cold minus-158 degrees.
“Of course, J&J and the federal government are not shipping out more vaccines than people need,” Weber said. “So it isn’t like we’re having to look for freezer space for more and more vaccine that we don’t know that we have enough people who want it. … It will last a prolonged period of time.”
That question has arisen because of the massive dip in demand for the vaccines.
The number of people across North Carolina getting their first dose has consistently dropped each week over the last month, from nearly 250,000 during the first week in April to just 36,799 last week.
To put it into context, everyone in the state who got their first shot last week would comfortably fit into 58,000-seat Carter-Finley Stadium — with about 20,000 seats still empty.
A total of 13 counties each gave first shots to fewer than 50 people last week — with just 17 in Swain County and 18 in both Alleghany and Camden counties.
But Weber says he’s not surprised at the sudden drop in demand. He says a consistent share of roughly 20 percent of people participating in polls insisted they would not get the vaccine.
“We end up with about 20 percent, which hasn’t changed at all in months, just being opposed,” Weber said. “And a smaller number at this point saying, ‘I still want more information.’ So we’ve exhausted the people who really wanted it. And it doesn’t surprise me it has it has dropped off this way.”
If demand continues to drop, and the vials of unused vaccine keep adding up, Weber says the best use for them would be to redistribute those doses to places around the globe that still need and want them.
“I think what we need to do is take that vaccine and make it available to parts of the world (that) don’t have access to vaccine,” Weber said. “Not only is that being a good Samaritan to the rest of the world, but that’s helping us because everybody who gets (COVID-19) is a little incubator for developing a new variant that could either be more infectious or more deadly. And the more we can decrease the risks everywhere else in the world, it helps us.”