The One Thing About the COVID Vaccine That's Surprising Even Doctors

As the vaccine is rolled out, medical experts have been pleasantly surprised by this.

It's safe to say that there have been very few pleasant surprises when it comes to the coronavirus pandemic. Lately, the most remarkable ones would be that two groundbreaking vaccines were developed, both showing efficacy rates near 95 percent. But the tightly allocated shipments of COVID vaccines have been pleasantly surprising doctors once they arrive for one reason: there are extra doses in many vials.

According to reports from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), healthcare workers have noticed that their intended shots are going further than anticipated. "It's pretty unusual to have a full extra dose or more though—but it does seem to be there!" Erin Fox, a pharmacist at University of Utah who monitors drug shortages, told Politico. Read on to find out more about this COVID vaccine perk, and for more expert-approved facts about getting inoculated, check out Dr. Fauci Just Debunked the 4 Biggest Myths About the COVID Vaccine.

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The FDA says doctors should feel free to use their extra doses.

Bottles with COVID-19 (SARS-CoV-2) Coronavirus vaccine vial. Copy space provided. Note: QR code on bottles was generated by me and contains generic text: "SARS-CoV-2 Vaccine"
iStock

The Pfizer vaccine was first rolled out for release on Dec. 13, shipping in vials that supposedly contain five doses apiece. But doctors administering the shots soon realized that most vials were providing much more than advertised, allowing for six or even seven doses from one vial.

According to the government, that just means there's more to go around. "At this time, given the public health emergency, FDA is advising that it is acceptable to use every full dose obtainable (the sixth, or possibly even a seventh) from each vial, pending resolution of the issue," the agency announced in a tweet. And for more on what exactly is in each vial, check out This Is What's Really in the COVID Vaccine.

This could help avoid a potential shortage in coming months.

Senior woman wearing protective face mask sitting in doctor's office and waiting for COVID vaccination
zoranm / iStock

An extra shot or two per vial may not sound like much, but they certainly add up. According to Politico, the discovery expands the national supply of the scarce vaccine by 40 percent. Experts now say that this surplus could help avoid a "vaccine cliff" that might arrive in spring when the vaccine becomes available to the general public. And for more on how you can prepare yourself for your shot, check out The CDC Is Warning You to Prepare For These COVID Vaccine Side Effects.

Technically, the extra vaccine doses in the vials aren't an accident.

Hand holds Coronavirus Covid-19 Vaccine glass bottle
iStock

Even though the COVID-19 vaccine is a precious commodity at this point, it's not unheard of for vials of such products to ship a little overfilled. Pharmaceutical companies typically overfill vials in anticipation of spills and circumstantial waste to keep the products usable to their minimum advertised dosage.

"It's not mismeasured," former FDA commissioner David Kessler, MD, told Rachel Maddow on her MSNBC show on Dec. 16. "It's not sloppiness. It's the way those vials are designed." And for more regular updates on COVID delivered right to your inbox, sign up for our daily newsletter.

A significant amount of the vaccine is needed to bring back "normal life."

Older woman getting vaccinated
Shutterstock

With a plan in place to vaccinate the most vulnerable and at-risk people first—specifically healthcare workers, nursing home residents, and people with pre-existing health conditions—experts say that doses aren't expected to make their way to the general public until spring. But according to Anthony Fauci, MD, a significant portion of the population will need to get vaccinated to bring back some form of normalcy—and the extra doses can help achieve that even sooner.

"I would say 50 percent would have to get vaccinated before you start to see an impact," Fauci told NPR during a Dec. 15 interview. "But I would say 75 to 85 percent would have to get vaccinated if you want to have that blanket of herd immunity." And for more information you should know about the vaccine, check out The COVID Vaccine Could Temporarily Paralyze This Body Part, FDA Warns.

Best Life is constantly monitoring the latest news as it relates to COVID-19 in order to keep you healthy, safe, and informed. Here are the answers to your most burning questions, the ways you can stay safe and healthy, the facts you need to know, the risks you should avoid, the myths you need to ignore,and the symptoms to be aware of. Click here for all of our COVID-19 coverage, and sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.
Zachary Mack
Zachary covers beer, wine, food, spirits, and travel. He's the owner of Alphabet City Beer Co. in New York City and is a Certified Cicerone. Read more
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