FDA extends shelf life of J&J vaccine to 6 months, after states remain flooded with millions of nearly expired doses

The FDA has agreed to extend the shelf life for Johnson & Johnson’s coronavirus vaccine to six months, pushing out the expiry date for the second time as states “drowning” in immunizations struggle to get rid of them.

The Big Pharma firm said the Food and Drug Administration approved the new expiration date in a statement on Wednesday, adding that the decision was “based on data from ongoing stability assessment studies, which have demonstrated the vaccine is stable at six months.”

The regulator itself said in a letter to J&J that the extended shelf life would also apply to batches that previously expired, so long as they were stored at certain temperatures.

Wednesday’s extension is the second approved for the J&J shot, with the FDA extending its original three-month life span to four-and-a-half months on June 10. That move came as officials in a number of states warned that their unused doses would expire before the end of June, though similar concerns persist. 

Last week, the medical news outlet Stat reported that “several state health departments” had recently called on the federal government to “redistribute their supply to other countries,” pointing to fears the doses would soon go bad.

“We’re drowning in this stuff,” Robert Ator, who heads up Arkansas’ vaccine roll-out, said of the state’s stockpile. “It’s starting to get a bit silly and we want to make sure we’re being good stewards.”

Stat observed that waste could be avoided if health officials agreed to extend the vaccines’ shelf lives, but noted “such expiration dates can only be extended so far.”

In New Jersey, Delaware and Pennsylvania alone, more than 800,000 J&J doses were at risk of going to waste as of late June, as health officials struggled to convince residents to take the jab. Some of the reluctance may stem from an FDA order to halt the J&J roll-out in April to look into potentially serious side effects. While it determined the adverse reactions were highly uncommon, that scare – as well as others since – may have been enough to turn off some residents for good. 

While J&J’s vaccine was highly anticipated due to its single-shot formulation, competitors Pfizer and Moderna largely beat it to the punch, with their own jabs granted emergency approval months before J&J’s. Moreover, the two rival companies have already supplied more than enough doses to vaccinate all eligible Americans, with 150 million residents already fully immunized with their two-dose shot. That’s compared to just 13 million for J&J’s vaccine.

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