US pharmacy chains CVS and Walgreens are responsible for the vast majority of wasted vaccine doses, which total more than 180,000 reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), according to a story from Kaiser Health News.
As of late March, the CDC recorded 182,874 tossed doses. CVS and Walgreens combined wasted 128,500 doses – CVS wasted about half and Walgreens 21%.
CVS and Walgreens, which have outlets across the US, were tasked by the federal government to help distribute vaccines to residents and staff of long-term care facilities in the weeks after the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines were approved for emergency use by the FDA.
CVS told Kaiser Health News that “nearly all” of its reported wasted vaccines came from that time. Both companies were initially criticized for the slow administration of the vaccines at these facilities.
Reasons for wasted doses included broken supplies, storage errors, and leftover doses that expired. The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines both have a limited shelf life: a vial of Pfizer’s vaccine, which contains multiple doses, must be used within six hours, while Moderna’s must be used in 11 hours.
This means no-show appointments can affect distribution. Both vaccines also require extremely cold storage, and many of the wasted doses were due to freezer malfunctions or doses being left at room temperature for too long.
In statements to Kaiser Health News, the companies said the number of wasted doses accounted for a small percentage of the total amount of doses that they administered.
This is despite “issues with transportation restrictions, limitations on redirecting unused doses, and other factors,” a CVS spokesperson told KHN. Walgreens said the wasted doses accounted for 0.5% of the vaccines it has administered.
Katie Fowlie, a CDC spokesperson, said that wasted doses from early efforts to distribute the vaccine “would not be unexpected” given the large number of doses the companies were tasked with administering.
“Though every effort is made to reduce the volume of wastage in a vaccination program, sometimes it’s necessary to identify doses as ‘waste’ to ensure anyone wanting a vaccine can receive it, as well as to ensure patient safety and vaccine effectiveness,” Fowlie said.
While the federal government collects data from some states, 15 states and the District of Columbia are not included in CDC data, creating a potentially incomplete picture of dosage waste.