WINNIPEG -- A small amount of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine had to be tossed out last week during the start of Manitoba’s immunization campaign, but work is underway to reduce wastage, according to the province’s acting deputy chief public health officer.

Dr. Jazz Atwal said seven doses last week weren’t used.

“We weren’t anticipating on wasting doses,” Atwal said Tuesday in a teleconference with reporters. “A handful of doses one time did happen to be expunged.

“In the grand scheme of things, to be quite frank, this is quite common in any sort of vaccine program and vaccine rollout.”

Atwal stressed it’s no different for COVID-19.

A spokesperson for the province said in an email every precaution is taken to ensure as much of the vaccine as possible is used.

“In rare instances, individuals may have cancelled their appointment or decided they need further guidance from their health-care provider about receiving the vaccine, after the on-site discussion with the nurse,” the spokesperson said. “All vaccine programs must also account for some loss when drawing doses, and the COVID-19 program is no different.”

The province said the small number of doses lost falls within what is expected for an immunization campaign.

“However, this has been more than offset by each vial of the vaccine providing six doses consistently, as opposed to the five that were expected. As a result, we were able to expand the number of appointments from 900 to more than 1,300 this week,” the spokesperson said.

The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine has to be stored and transported at ultra-low temperatures and must be injected soon after it is prepared for use.

“If you aren’t able to provide it in a short period of time, the vaccine’s only good for six hours once it’s reconstituted and that’s at room temperature setting so that’s one variable,” Atwal said. “Do we have an arm to poke it in, that’s a second variable.”

Atwal said 1,192 doses had been given out as of Monday night, with 298 of those injections occurring Monday. He said so far, there have been no reports of adverse side effects after immunizations.

“If anything, we’ve gone above and beyond what we were planning for because we’re able to get those extra doses out of the vials,” he said.

Eligible health-care workers have been required to book appointments to get the vaccine. The province said all of those appointments are now booked.

When asked why someone else who is eligible couldn’t be called on to get the vaccine in the event of a cancelled or missed appointment, Atwal pointed to the process which requires people to make appointments and answer a series of questions that involves giving out personal health information.

“Work is being done to mitigate such issues,” he said. “It’ll likely occur again, let’s be honest, but we’re looking at mitigating those issues.”

The next immunization clinic is scheduled for Tuesday, Dec. 29 and Wednesday, Dec. 30. The phone line will reopen to eligible health-care workers Wednesday, Dec. 23 at 6 a.m. It will close daily at 8 p.m. until all slots are filled.

The following health-care workers whose jobs involve direct contact with patients must meet one of the criteria below to be eligible to receive the vaccine:

  •  work in critical care units, born on or before Dec. 31, 1980;
  • work in long-term care facilities, born on or before Dec. 31, 1962;
  • work in acute care facilities, born on or before Dec. 31, 1960; or
  • be assigned to COVID-19 immunization clinics.