COVID-19: Moderna ‘essentially the same’ as Pfizer, Mackie says as clock ticks on thawed doses

The Moderna COVID-19 vaccine, held at the West Wales General Hospital in Carmarthen, on April 7, 2021 in Carmarthen, Wales. Getty Images file

The Middlesex-London Health Unit (MLHU) is continuing to urge the unvaccinated and partially vaccinated to get immunized against COVID-19 as it looks to use up thousands of thawed Moderna doses that will go bad in the next two weeks.

The health unit said Wednesday that there was an excess of 21,300 thawed Moderna doses in local fridges as a result of a decline in vaccinations over the previous two weeks.

The thawed doses are “above and beyond” those already allocated through upcoming appointments, the health unit says, adding they need to be used by Aug. 12 as vaccine taken from freezers and thawed must be used within 30 days.

During Thursday’s COVID-19 media briefing, Dr. Chris Mackie, the region’s medical officer of health, said the MLHU had reached out to other health units and found them to be experiencing a similar problem of Moderna over-supply.

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“We all were really riding this intense vaccination train, 50,000 doses per week. It’s not that demand has dropped it’s that demand has been met. That’s the good news part of this story. But that happened very quickly and so it was difficult to adjust appropriately over that time,” he said.

The health unit says it’s administered 81,000 doses of Moderna vaccine since July 1 and has received just over 24,000 doses in the same period.

According to Mackie, the number of per-day vaccinations has ranged anywhere from 1,600 to 3,500 over the last few days, compared to 7,000 at its peak. The large number of doses regularly drawn out from freezers to be at-the-ready for administering have not been getting used up.

On top of that, the health unit recently received a shipment of Moderna which had to be placed directly into fridges because of a lack of freezer space. “Those two factors together just meant there was a lot of Moderna,” Mackie explained.

“If we were still moving at the same rate that we’d been even a week ago with our vaccine clinics, we would have moved through that Moderna, no problem, within the next week or two.”

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The health unit is now encouraging people to get the Moderna vaccine through local mass vaccination, mobile, and pop-up clinics. (One such pop-up clinic will be on hand in Victoria Park this weekend to dole out vaccines during RibFest.)

Since last month, Ontario and other Canadian provinces have been offering Moderna shots after a first dose of Pfizer and vice-versa in order to quickly vaccinate as many people as possible. Both vaccines use mRNA technology, and Canada’s National Advisory Committee on Immunization found “no important difference” between the two.

“They are essentially the same medication,” Mackie said. “They just come with slightly different packaging, slightly different stabilizers, and adjuvants which help to boost the immune system. The fundamental component of the vaccine is the mRNA, and that is pretty much exactly the same in the Pfizer and Moderna.”

Click to play video: 'Pfizer, Moderna says studies underway on children under 12; Anand says enough supply once approved'
Pfizer, Moderna says studies underway on children under 12; Anand says enough supply once approved

With the decline in vaccinations, Mackie says the health unit has begun calling people individually to have them rebook their second dose appointments to an earlier date.

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More than 643,013 doses of COVID-19 vaccine have been administered in London-Middlesex as of July 24, and currently 80 per cent of residents in London-Middlesex over the age of 12 have gotten at least one dose, while 62.8 per cent have gotten both.

Health officials have said previously that they want to get the percentage up to at least 90 to avoid further hospitalizations and deaths, especially amid ongoing concerns about the highly contagious Delta variant which has been driving surges of COVID-19 across the United States in recent weeks.

According to provincial data, 99.5 per cent of all COVID-19 ICU admissions in Ontario dating from mid-June to mid-July have involved unvaccinated or partially vaccinated people, and nearly 96 per cent of related deaths were in the same group.

Locally, none of the 13 COVID-19 hospitalizations reported in London-Middlesex since June 17 have involved a fully vaccinated individual, the data shows. One death has been reported in that time period and it involved someone who had not been vaccinated.

Even with those statistics, London Mayor Ed Holder expressed uncertainty during Thursday’s media briefing about the likelihood that the region would see the remaining 20 per cent of residents vaccinated.

“There are those who choose not to for any number of their reasons, until such time as perhaps they want to travel or there will be circumstances where they cannot go somewhere unless they have been shown to have had two vaccinations,” Holder said, later reiterating his comments from Monday’s briefing that this will be a “pandemic of the unvaccinated.”

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Since mid-June, 70 per cent, or 182 cases, involved people who were unvaccinated, while 26 per cent, or 69 cases, involved people who were partially vaccinated, health unit data shows. Only 11 cases involved people who were fully immunized.

“Why should we put healthy people at risk who demand certain health care services when those who don’t care enough about anyone choose to not get their shot, then they get sick, and they soak up and use up our services?

“You see it today. The unvaccinated are the ones that are filling the hospitals. The unvaccinated are the ones who are getting COVID. Tell me how much sense that makes?”

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