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Pfizer aims to offer new COVID vaccine packaging options that could increase accessibility and decrease wasted doses

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The CDC expects that smaller packages of Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine may be available for public health departments and care providers by October, according to a document from the agency sent to immunization partners last month, obtained by CBS News. The change has the potential to increase the availability of vaccines in smaller, more rural areas and decrease the number of wasted doses. 

So far, the Pfizer vaccine has been available in two packages: one with 450 doses and another with 1,170. But the vaccine's cold storage requirement limits where and for how long they can be kept, making it challenging for smaller facilities to store high quantities of the vaccine without wasting doses.

The CDC document was not specific about what the new packaging would entail, but told partners to "stay tuned for more details." In a statement to CBS News, Pfizer confirmed it's working on smaller packing options. The CDC did not respond to a request for comment. 

Dr. Marcus Plescia, chief medical officer for the Association of State and Territorial Officers, told CBS News that the change could allow shipments to go directly to doctor's offices. Currently, doses meant for locations without sufficient storage capabilities are often siphoned off from a larger facility where they're held to reduce waste. 

On Wednesday, a CDC spokesperson said more than 14.5 million doses have been wasted so far, roughly 3.4% of all delivered doses. The spokesperson said vaccines delivered in multidose vials, like the COVID-19 vaccines, typically have a waste rate of 5-15%.

Plescia said getting vaccines to medical care providers quickly "is one of the strongest evidence-based practices that there is" to overcome vaccine hesitancy. 

"We've seen over and over again, people will go and talk to their doctor and they'll be determined they're not going to be vaccinated, then talk to their doctor and they change their mind," he said. "This is the place we feel like we can get a lot of people to change their mind who aren't going to change their mind with the public messaging we're doing and other things." 

The potential for smaller packages comes as federal regulators are considering authorizing and recommending booster doses for large swaths of the population. Currently, an additional dose of either Pfizer or Moderna is already authorized for Americans who are immunocompromised

Adriane Casalotti, government and public affairs chief for the National Association of County and City Health Officials, says the smaller packages could help more rural public health departments that struggled with logistics in the spring.

"This certainly would provide more flexibility for those situations," she said. Casalotti also noted that this move is significant particularly because it applies to the Pfizer vaccine, which is currently the only vaccine authorized for children.

In the document, the CDC also said that orders of Johnson & Johnson's one-dose vaccine are slated to resume this month. Shipments have been restricted for months after many states reported unused doses following a bumpy rollout of the vaccine. Plescia emphasized that the Johnson & Johnson vaccine still remains a safe and viable option, especially for vaccinating people in emergency rooms who may be harder to reach for a second dose. 

Alexander Tin contributed reporting. 

Editor's Note: This story has been updated to clarify Pfizer's storage requirements. The vaccine can be stored for up to a month in standard refrigerator temperatures when thawed. It can be kept frozen at standard freezer temperatures for up to two weeks.

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