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15 Million Covid Vaccine Doses Have Been Thrown Out Since March

Pharmacies and state governments in the United States have thrown away at least 15.1 million doses of Covid-19 vaccines since March 1, according to new government data, which is a far larger number than previously known and is still probably an undercount, according to health experts.

Four national pharmacy chains reported more than 1 million wasted doses each, according to data released Tuesday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in response to a public records request. Walgreens reported the most waste of any pharmacy, state or other vaccine providers, with nearly 2.6 million wasted doses. CVS reported 2.3 million wasted doses, while Walmart reported 1.6 million and Rite Aid reported 1.1 million. The number of discarded doses is still a small fraction of the total doses administered in the U.S.

[Photo by KENA BETANCUR/AFP via Getty Images]
The data released by the CDC is self-reported by pharmacies, states and other vaccine providers. It is not comprehensive — missing some states and federal providers — and it does not include the reason doses had to be thrown away. In one example of missing data, the CDC lists just 12 wasted doses for Michigan since March, but Michigan’s Department of Health and Human Services said on Wednesday that the state has thrown away 257,673 doses since December.

The report comes as the more contagious Delta variant spreads rapidly across the United States, adding fresh urgency to the effort to vaccinate as many people as possible and spurring a plan to begin offering booster shots to those already vaccinated — even as many nations around the world have vaccinated few, if any, of their residents.

 

In general, there are a number of reasons why vaccination sites may have to mark doses as wasted, from a cracked vial or an error diluting the vaccine to a freezer malfunction to more doses in a vial than people who want them. A wastage report can also happen when a vial contains fewer doses than it should. The number of doses that went to waste is a small fraction of the more than 438 million doses that were distributed in the country as of Tuesday and the 111.7 million additional doses the U.S. had given to other countries as of August 3rd.

Demand for vaccines in the U.S. rose in August as cases and hospitalizations surged due to the delta variant. Still, the U.S. wasted at least 3.8 million doses in August alone, the data shows. States, pharmacies, and other vaccine providers also reported at least 4.4 million wasted doses to the CDC in June and 4.7 million in July — more than in March, April and May combined.

 



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