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Health Officials Are Finding One — And Sometimes Two — Extra Doses In Maine's COVID-19 Vaccine Vials

Maine Medical Center
Maine Medical Center's first vial of the COVID-19 vaccine.

Maine has more doses of the Pfizer vaccine than expected. According to the state CDC, hospitals have been able to extract at least one extra dose per vial. That means the state has about 20% more of a vaccine that’s in high demand and limited supply.

The extra dose discovery was made Wednesday morning at Northern Light Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor, says Dr. James Jarvis.

“I will tell you that I was actually on site when we reconstituted our first vial yesterday morning at 6:30, or before 6:30. And watched the look of puzzlement on our pharmacist’s face when he said, ‘I’m pretty sure I can get another dose out of this,’” he says.

Each vial of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine is supposed to contain five doses. But hospitals in Maine and around the country have been able to extract at least one extra. Dr. John Alexander, chief medical officer at Central Maine Healthcare, says in rare instances, they’ve been able to extract two extra doses.

“When you think about the math of that, I mean that’s a huge expansion,” he says.

Before those extra doses were discovered, Alexander says, Central Maine Medical Center had planned to vaccinate 90% of its high-priority workforce with its initial allotment. But now that’s changed, he says.

“This really gives us that extra boost to be able to offer it to all 100%,” he says.

The FDA has authorized the use of every full dose that can be captured from each Pfizer vial until the issue is resolved. Combining partial doses from separate vials is not acceptable because of possible cross-contamination.

The fact that there’s overfill in vaccine vials isn’t totally unexpected, says Dr. Alexander. There’s usually a little extra to ensure an adequate amount. But for the overfill to be enough for a full extra dose is unusual.

“It’s surprising how some of those vials have been overfilled. A lot of the chatter right now is, how long is it going to take Pfizer to figure out it can cut back on the vials?” he says.

Dr. Jarvis at Northern Light Health says that’s why the green light from the FDA as well as the Maine CDC is important, because hospital officials had to consider whether using those extra doses would create problems down the line.

“Because remember, everybody requires a second dose, and we wanted to make sure that yes indeed, we would still be getting that second shipment and things would match. And we feel very comfortable with that,” he says.

A spokesperson for the Maine CDC says the availability of approximately 20% more Pfizer vaccine is welcome and significant news.