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REPORT: Unknown Numbers Of COVID-19 Vaccine Doses Are Being Wasted Because States Aren’t Keeping Track

(Chandan Khanna/AFP via Getty Images)

Dylan Housman Healthcare Reporter
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Some number of COVID-19 vaccine doses around the country are going to waste, but the exact amount is impossible to know because not all states are keeping track, according to a new report. 

Reports are coming in from across the United States of unused vaccine doses, but officials are being left in the dark as to the exact number and reasons for the waste, according to a new report from ProPublica. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention require administrators of vaccines to track waste, but local guidelines reportedly aren’t being followed. 

Some states do not allow health care workers to give vaccine doses to individuals outside the currently eligible priority groups. Health care workers in Washington allegedly threw out some vaccine doses because they believed they were subject to such rules, ProPublica reported. (RELATED: Vaccine Stockpile Trump Administration Promised To Release Doesn’t Actually Exist)

Other states, like Maryland, have had instances of doses going to waste because they weren’t given out in time before their expiration. In both states, the number of unused and wasted vaccine doses is not being tracked, ProPublica reported. 

Indiana requires numbers of wasted vaccine doses to be tracked but allegedly could not tell ProPublica an exact number of doses that were lost. Health officials still reportedly asserted that “wastage has been minimal.” 

The source of the issue is that there is no enforcement mechanism from the CDC to get wastage reports from states, and vaccine providers have limited incentive to admit to wasting doses, dean of Brown University’s School of Public Health Dr. Ashish Jha told ProPublica. 

Jha reportedly said the number of wasted doses is likely far higher than is being officially recorded. It’s important for experts to know exact numbers and why wastage is happening in order to optimize vaccine rollout to prevent it in the future. 

Jha also added that providers have gotten “slammed” by the media for wasting doses, making vaccine providers reluctant to report wastage. Vaccine providers like hospitals and pharmacies are meant to provide wastage data to state health departments who then provide that data to the CDC, ProPublica reported. 

However, the rules for reporting at the state level are often unclear, variable and lacking in enforcement, according to ProPublica. Michigan is reportedly another example of a state in which officials do not ask providers to give them wastage data. (RELATED: Fauci Criticizes Trump’s Coronavirus Response But Disputes CNN Report On His ‘Nonexistent’ Vaccine Plan)

Pennsylvania is a state that does. Officials there told ProPublica that 0.1% of doses in the state had been wasted, largely due to broken vials or syringes and recipients changing their mind on getting the vaccine after it had been drawn. 

Both Moderna and Pfizer’s vaccines must be used within 6 hours of being removed from cold storage. Some vials of Pfizer’s vaccine have an additional 6th dose within them despite the vials being marked for five; it is reportedly unclear to some providers whether to mark that 6th dose as “wasted” if it is not used. 

Federal officials have begun telling providers to do anything they can not to waste doses, even if it means not strictly adhering to eligibility guidelines. “It’s more important to get people vaccinated than to perfectly march through each prioritized group,” former health secretary Alex Azar said on Jan. 6. (RELATED: President Biden Tells A Reporter Asking About Vaccine Rollout To ‘Give Me A Break, Man’)

Lori Freeman, CEO of the National Association of County and City Health Officials, reportedly put it another way: “There’s always someone in line. The whole nation is in line. There’s no reason for any vaccine to go to waste.”