Did you know that COVID-19 vaccine shelf life can be extended beyond what’s printed on the vial, sometimes more than once?
Find out why they keep extending vaccine shelf life, and whether we should be worried about that!
COVID-19 Vaccine Shelf Life Is Way Too Short
Based on their experience developing past vaccines, manufacturers have a good idea of how long their vaccines will remain stable and retain their quality and efficacy.
When properly stored, vaccines can last a long time. Most vaccines actually have a shelf life of about three years.
However, vaccine manufacturers have been extraordinarily cautious when it comes to COVID-19 vaccines. Many COVID-19 vaccines ship with shelf lives of only 3 to 6 months!
The key takeaway point is that COVID-19 vaccine shelf lives are extraordinarily short. Many healthcare professionals would call them way too short.
COVID-19 Vaccine Shelf Life Extension Is Normal
The ultra-short shelf life for COVID-19 vaccines have led to criticism that such excessive caution is leading to wastage.
Even while there is a global shortage of vaccines, many doses had to be disposed when they “expired”, even though they are still safe and effective to use.
The WHO has been urging countries to hold onto those “expired doses” while manufacturers are assessing whether their shelf lives can be extended.
The US FDA also points out that vaccines authorised for emergency use do NOT have fixed expiry dates.
Once new stability studies prove that the vaccine remains stable and effective over time, the expiry date of those vaccines can and will be extended.
I should point out that these extended COVID-19 vaccine shelf lives are still very conservative. Perhaps overly conservative.
In fact, we should expect them to keep getting extended as further stability tests show that they do actually last very long.
Which COVID-19 Vaccine Has Extended Shelf Life?
You may be surprised to know this, but the shelf life of many COVID-19 vaccines have extended, sometimes more than once.
So do NOT be alarmed if you are given a dose from a vial with an “expired date“. It does NOT mean that you have been given a “bad vaccine”.
It just means that the vaccine has been proven to last much longer than originally expected.
The Pfizer-BioNTech COMIRNATY vaccine originally had a 6 month shelf life. That was extended by 3 months, to 9 months on 22 August 2021.
On 16 December 2021, the US FDA also extended shelf life for the COMIRNATY vaccine that uses the Tris buffer to 9 months.
So all existing vaccine doses can be used for an additional 3 months beyond their printed expiry dates, as long as they are stored between -90ºC to -60ºC.
The Moderna COVID-19 vaccine originally had a 7 month shelf life.
On 23 December 2021, both UK MHRA and Health Canada extended its shelf life by 2 months, to 9 months, as long as it is stored between -25ºC to -15ºC.
The US FDA also extended the shelf life of certain lots by 2 months, to 9 months, as long as they are stored between -50ºC to -15ºC.
J&J Janssen COVID-19 Vaccine
The Janssen COVID-19 vaccine from Johnson & Johnson originally has a 3 month (90-day) shelf life.
The US FDA extended its shelf life to 4.5 months (135 days) on 10 June 2021, and then 6 months (180 days) on 28 July 2021.
All existing vaccine doses can now be used for an additional 1.5 to 3 months (45 to 60 days) beyond their printed expiry dates, as long as they are stored at 2-8ºC.
In May 2021, Health Canada extended the shelf life of about 45,000 AstraZeneca doses by a month, following review of stability data.
It allowed the use of doses with an original expiry date of 31 May 2021, until 1 July 2021.
Otherwise, all AstraZeneca vaccine doses remain with their original shelf life of six months.
The CoronaVac inactivated virus vaccine from Sinovac originally had a 6-month shelf life, which was later extended to 12 months, when it was approved by the WHO.
However, Sinovac appears to give the CoronaVac different shelf lives depending on who’s purchasing their vaccine – 1 year in Malaysia, 2 years in Singapore, and 3 years in Indonesia and Thailand.
The Sinopharm BIBP vaccine has a 24-month shelf life, as registered with the WHO. With such a long shelf life, there is no real need for an extension.
The CanSino Convidecia vaccine has a 24-month shelf life, and remains stable for 60 days at room temperature.
With such a long shelf life, there is no real need for an extension.
Covishield is a rebranded AstraZeneca vaccine manufactured by the Serum Institute of India, and has the same original 6 month shelf life.
In March 2021, the Drugs Controller General of India (DCGI) extended its shelf life by 3 additional months, to 9 months.
Covaxin originally had a shelf life of 6 months, but that was extended to 12 months by the Indian Central Drugs Standard Control Organisation on 3 November 2021.
All existing vaccine doses can now be used for an additional 6 months beyond their printed expiry dates, as long as they are stored at 2-8ºC.
The Russian vaccine – Sputnik V originally had an incredibly short 2-month shelf life at -18ºC.
The Russian Healthcare Ministry then allowed it to be stored for 2 months at 2-8ºC, before later extending it to 6 months when stored at -18ºC to -22ºC.
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Dr. Adrian Wong has been writing about tech and science since 1997, even publishing a book with Prentice Hall called Breaking Through The BIOS Barrier (ISBN 978-0131455368) while in medical school.
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