Extra doses found in Pfizer vials as hospitals prep for Moderna vaccine arrival

In Arkansas, the “overfill” means about 20 percent more frontline workers can get shots in the first batch.

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Every frozen drop of Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine is precious as the first doses go into the arms of health care workers, but administrators have noticed a bonus once they defrost each vial and fill the syringe. 

There is enough vaccine left over to produce six individual doses instead of five.

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“It’s like you purchased a cake mix and it says that it can fill a certain sized pan, but they actually put more than they should have into the pan,” said Dr. Jeffrey Cook, the assistant head of the pharmacy school at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences.

His name may be Cook, but he’s not a baker. He’s just going along with a reporter’s metaphor, wondering if chemists are scraping the mixing bowl when they whip up each dose. He says it is an overfill and it happens often, though in this case was unexpected given how exacting Pfizer was prepared to be as the lightning fast development process unfolded.

“We looked and it made us scratch our heads a little bit,” he said. “We asked, ‘Are you seeing the same thing we’re seeing?’ We relied on our peers and we relied on ADH to answer some questions.”

Dean Cook calls it a good surprise because there still isn’t enough vaccine to go around yet. They received confirmation from federal and state officials that the extra 20% will also show up in the second dose that everyone is due to get. They don’t want to leave people hanging in three weeks.

One week in, the initial roll-out is going smoothly and the second drug from Moderna is on the brink of joining the fight.

“There is a plan for longevity. You add Moderna’s vaccine. You keep Pfizer’s in production. You keep using it. We’re going to get there. I’m hopeful,” said Dr. Cook.

According to a health department database, only one person in Arkansas has had any kind of reaction to the vaccine and Cook said public health officials quickly found an explanation, pointing to a previous medical condition.

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That should be a sign to frontline health care workers that they can safely keep getting shots and blazing a trail out of the pandemic for the rest of us.

“I watched people as they were receiving the vaccine or giving the vaccine that were teary,” Dr. Cook said of the first day of shots last week. “You ask them why, and they say, ‘Well, it brings us hope.'”