CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCBD) – Lowcountry hospitals say they’re not wasting any vials of the COVID-19 vaccine as the race to vaccinate ramps up.

It’s all about timing.

Dr. Robert Oliverio, the Chief Medical Officer of Ambulatory Care and Population Health for the Roper St. Francis Health health system says there is some leeway after the Pfizer vaccines are taken out of the ultra-cold freezer. Once the dose is in the syringe, the time crunch begins.

Thousands of appointments made within Roper St. Francis Health every day for both in-house vaccinations and the drive-thru clinic at the North Charleston Coliseum.

Dr. Oliverio says he can count the number of missed appointments on one hand.

“People are really excited to get the vaccine,” he said. “We thaw what we think we’re going to need and then we bring that thawed vaccine to the vaccination clinic.”

Once a vial thaws, it can still be refrigerated for up to five days. Once a dose in the syringe, there’s a six-hour time frame to get it into the arm of a patient.

“So if we have extra vials at the end of the day, those can go back in the refrigerator to be used the next day.”

Dr. Oliverio says each vial contains around five doses and saving half-full vials for the next day is a practice Roper tries to avoid.

“So really, worst-case scenario, you draw one dose out of a vial for your last patient, and then you have four to five more doses in that vial,” said Dr. Oliverio.

That’s where the stand-by list kicks in. It’s full of frontline workers, specifically first responders.

Although vials can be saved for a few days Dr. Oliverio encourages people to not miss their appointments for a first or second dose.

“So, if they miss their first shot, they kind of mess up that second appointment as well. If there’s any way not to miss it, don’t miss it. And what I would say is don’t’ make the appointment if you don’t think you can keep it,” said Dr. Oliverio.

Representatives from MUSC sent information to News 2 saying they do not waste any vials of the vaccine.

We have an ultracold freezer in each division now, which markedly enhances our ability to NOT waste any doses. Once out of the freezer, the vials are viable for 5 days in the refrigerator so we only put in the fridge the amount of vaccine we think we will use that day; but we have 4 additional days if there are no shows.
The only tricky part is each vial has 5-6 doses in a vial; once started is only good for 6 hours. So we are very careful not to get ahead of drawing up vials after noon, to ensure we don’t have excess within a vial at the end of the day. We have a major advantage with an ultracold fridge in each division (Charleston, Florence, Lancaster).