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Experts weigh in on how to manage unused COVID-19 vaccines & unfilled appointments in Ontario

A viewer video shows a socially distanced crowd gathered in a parking lot Saturday at one of Toronto’s vaccination clinics.

“We’re going to draw five names because we are going to have less than five vaccines,” said the man that one bystander said worked at the clinic.

The individual who took the video asked to stay anonymous for privacy concerns. He said he went to the clinic, even though he knew he was not currently eligible, hoping for a chance to get a leftover dose of a COVID-19 vaccination. Several other people had the same thought.

We reached out to the clinic for comment and clarification about this alleged lottery system but did not hear back by deadline.

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Over 5M Canadians given at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose as rollout picks up steam

In a statement, Ontario’s Ministry of Health said Public Health Units and vaccination clinics have been directed to put in place processes to fill last-minute cancellations and ‘end of day doses.’

The focus is to have them filled by people who are identified as priority populations under the provincial framework.

Dr. Isaac Bogoch said ensuring priority groups getting vaccinated first is key. The spots should be filled with people who are eligible under the current phase of the rollout.

However, at the same time, he said no doses should be wasted, even if it means some people get the shot before they are eligible.

“We can’t have unfilled spots,” said Bogoch. “Fill the spots, and if people are 18 and up, I have no problem with anyone getting vaccinated if there are unfilled spots.”

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There has been speculation vaccines could expire at the end of a day, but Dr. Bogoch said for the most part this is not the case.

“Pfizer vaccine can sit for up to five days in the refrigerator after being thawed, Moderna can sit for a month,” Bogoch said. “The vaccines aren’t going to go to waste, but the spaces are going to go to waste.”

Other doctors are worried relying on lotteries to ensure all doses are used means luck won’t necessarily prevail for those most at risk.

“We have to recognize that this is not an equal opportunity virus,” said Dr. Naheed Dosani, a palliative care and health justice activist. “When we pull a name from a hat as to who gets the vaccine, it can mean people are left out. I think there has to be a more effective way to make sure extra doses are going to those who need it.”

Currently, there is no national strategy on what to do with leftover COVID-19 vaccine doses. To date, those policies are up to provincial and local authorities.

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