Bungling wastes shots in US in COVID-19 battle
As millions continue to wait their turn for the COVID-19 vaccine, small but steady amounts of the precious doses have gone to waste across the United States.
It’s a heartbreaking reality that experts acknowledged was always likely to occur. Thousands of shots have been wasted in states of Tennessee, Florida, Ohio and many others.
The reasons vary from shoddy record-keeping to accidentally trashing hundreds of shots. However, pinning down just how many of the life-saving vials have been tossed remains largely unknown despite assurance from many local officials the number remains low.
Waste is common in global inoculation campaigns, with millions of doses of flu shots trashed each year.
World Health Organization estimates, as many as half of vaccines in previous campaigns worldwide have been thrown away because they were mishandled, unclaimed or expired.
By comparison, waste of the COVID-19 vaccine appears to be quite small, though the US government has yet to release numbers shedding insight on its extent. Officials have promised that may change soon as more data is collected from the states.
In the interim, state health agencies are much more inclined to tout how fast they’ve administered the shots while keeping mum on the number of doses that end up in the trash.
Ohio’s Department of Health resisted the use of the term “wasted.” Instead, a spokesperson for the agency said that the state tracks “unusable” vaccines reported by state providers.
“With 3.2 million doses administered as of March 9, 2021, the 3,396 unusable doses reported by state providers make up about 0.1 percent of the doses administered — less than the Centers for Disease Control’s expectation of 5 percent of unusable doses,” said Ohio Department of Health spokesperson Alicia Shoults.
According to a log provided by the department, Ohio providers reported almost 60 incidents where doses were unused.
The largest incident occurred earlier this year, when a pharmacy responsible for distributing the vaccine to nursing homes failed to document storage temperatures for leftover shots, resulting in 890 doses being wasted.
In Tennessee, wasted, spoiled or unused doses aren’t publicly disclosed on the state’s online COVID-19 vaccine dashboard. But after nearly 4,500 of Tennessee’s doses were ruined in February, the state’s Department of Health scrambled to find answers.
It started with nearly 1,000 doses reported missing in eastern Tennessee’s Knox County, where emotional local leaders said a shipment was accidentally tossed by an employee who believed the box contained dry ice.
Shortly after, a little more than 2,500 doses were reported wasted in Shelby County — which encompasses Memphis. A state investigation concluded the eye-opening spoilage occurred over multiple incidents due to substandard pharmacy practices, a lack of standard operating procedures for storage and handling, disorganized record-keeping and deficient management of soon-to-expire vaccine doses.
The federal government has held off releasing numbers of spoiled or unusable doses, although it says states should report such waste in its vaccine tracker. “We are working to figure out how to provide this data online in the future when the data is more complete,” Kristen Nordlund, a spokesperson for the CDC, said.