State program to limit vaccine waste is helping providers

Washington state recently unveiled a new program called Vaccine Marketplace, which creates a streamlined process for transferring COVID-19 vaccines between different vaccine providers in the state.

Similar to Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace, Vaccine Marketplace allows providers who have extra doses of the COVID-19 vaccine to share the information with other providers in order to reduce waste.

The program launched May 14 and is an addition to the state’s current Immunization Information System, or IIS. It is available to any state provider that utilizes IIS.

Providers must fill out COVID-19 redistribution forms as mandated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention before using the marketplace. Those forms ensure that any provider utilizing the marketplace has the proper storage and handling units and will comply with storage and handling guidelines, said SheAnne Allen, COVID-19 Vaccine Director at the state Department of Health. Providers must also be enrolled in the Washington State program to use the marketplace.

Allen said there are over 16,000 enrolled providers in the state.

“We have some providers that do a lot of transferring that right away picked it up and started utilizing the feature and have found it helpful,” Allen said. “Others … we’re still talking through the process and encouraging them to use that feature, or check that feature out first before placing an order.”

Tacoma’s Lincoln Pharmacy at 821 S. 38th St., is one of those providers that has not yet used the marketplace.

Shannon Lawson, consulting nurse and liaison at Lincoln Pharmacy, said the pharmacy has not been in a position where it needed to offload a lot of vaccine. The pharmacy often receives more calls requesting extra doses of the vaccine than it puts out itself.

The pharmacy will, however, begin to use Vaccine Marketplace when the need arises.

“We’re all in this together,” Lawson said. “It’s our duty to help each other out.”

Allen said she hopes the marketplace has appeal to smaller providers in the state, as it might better suit their needs and storage capacities.

“Maybe some of these smaller clinics can’t take or store the 450-dose minimum order of Pfizer, but if there’s a small number of vials that a provider is willing to transfer, that really gives them the opportunity to use that vaccine and not worry about probably wasting large amounts of vaccine,” Allen said.

The Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department has made the shift away from calls to request vaccines — which pharmacies like Lincoln are still using as their primary point of contact — to Vaccine Marketplace. Before the vaccine marketplace, doing vaccine transfers required more work for places like TPCHD, said Christa Moor, public health nurse and branch director.

“It’s a lot more, probably just manual labor for all of us. Because we have connections with so many providers, we would connect providers throughout the county as we became aware (of) needs for doses or providers who are trying to get rid of extra doses,” Moor said. “Now, this just kind of allows us to do it in a centralized place.”

Allen said the program’s efficiency has been well-received.

“Providers really want to help reduce wastage. Sometimes it’s just easier to transfer from a provider that is right down the street or within an hour driving distance away.”

Once providers are enrolled and have filled out the proper forms, they can log on to Vaccine Marketplace and list any doses they have available, along with their contact information. From there, the state approves transfer requests on IIS and providers arrange the transfer among themselves.

Moor said transfers can happen fairly quickly, with some providers calling as early as 9 a.m. and picking up doses within the hour. TPCHD encourages all vaccine providers to have enough doses on hand to last for two weeks, to ensure anyone who wants a vaccine may receive it.

The seven-day vaccination rate in Pierce County has been on a steady decline since late May. Moor said this is because most individuals who wanted to get vaccinated have already done so. The county health department is now focusing on the people who are hesitant to get the vaccine, but the situation means the department sometimes has extra vaccine doses. She said the marketplace has become a very handy tool for that reason.

Moving forward, the state Department of Health will continue to provide additional resources on what information to put on the marketplace listings and how to do so properly, along with training to any providers who need it. Access to the marketplace may also be expanded to other types of providers, such as the Washington State Adult Vaccine Program.

“I think they realize and recognize the importance of it to help reduce possible wastage, or to use a vaccine that could potentially be expiring soon,” Allen said. “Just watching the communication between the providers has been really exciting.”