Pharmacy giants Walgreens and CVS reportedly oversaw the waste of most of the country’s soiled coronavirus vaccine doses as of late March.
Of 182,874 spoiled vaccines recorded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention by March 30, CVS was responsible for about half and Walgreens was responsible for 21%, according to CDC data reported by Kaiser Health News. The two companies together reportedly accounted for nearly 128,500 wasted shots.
The Trump administration partnered with Walgreens and CVS to offer on-site COVID-19 vaccinations for residents of nursing homes and assisted living facilities in what was established as the country’s initial goal post in the administration’s coronavirus vaccines. It was under that program that so many vaccines were wasted, CVS said.
“Nearly all of our reported waste occurred within the long term care facility program that began last December due to issues with transportation restrictions, limitations on redirecting unused doses, and other factors,” CVS spokesman Michael DeAngelis told the Washington Examiner in a statement. “Despite the inherent challenges in the long term care program, our teams were able to limit waste to approximately one dose per onsite vaccination clinic.”
“Vaccine waste in our retail stores is extremely limited, accounting for less than 0.1% of vaccine doses we’ve administered at retail, or less than 1 in 1000 doses,” DeAngelis added.
Walgreens told the Washington Examiner that it had administered nearly 8 million doses through March 29 and discarded about 0.5% of what the company was delivered.
“Our pharmacists maintain COVID-19 vaccines in a manner that maximizes the shelf life of the products and prevents against loss,” a spokesperson said. “When doses remained that were due to expire, those doses could be used to vaccinate eligible Walgreens team members according to phased plans outlined by the CDC and states. If there are excess doses beyond that, Walgreens communicates regularly with the state and local jurisdictions to determine next steps for reallocation.”
The report examined vaccine waste by states, saying, “The data suggests that the companies have wasted more doses than states, U.S. territories and federal agencies combined,” though it qualified that it did not have complete data from every state and territory.
Among the causes behind wasted doses are freezer malfunctions or workers leaving doses at room temperature, according to the report.
To illustrate, the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, which the Food and Drug Administration authorized for emergency use on Dec. 11, 2020, requires refrigeration in ultracold refrigerators at sub-zero temperatures. That vaccine represented nearly 60% of tossed doses, Kaiser Health News reported.
The report also detailed cases in which vaccine products under the administration of states went bad. The health department in Gunnison County, Colorado, lost a dose of the Pfizer vaccine when someone bumped into a table, spilling a vial. Another county health department in the state reported that it lost a dose of the Moderna vaccine because a hypodermic needle was bent.
“As vaccination supply expands and opportunities to receive the vaccine increase nationwide, CDC anticipates wastage may increase,” a CDC spokesperson told the Washington Examiner on Tuesday. “Though providers make every effort to reduce wastage, sometimes wastage occurs as part of the process to ensure that anyone wanting a vaccine can receive one.”
Vaccine waste nationally was about 0.13% as of Sunday after more than 310 million doses had been delivered, the spokesperson added.
As for CVS and Walgreens, the two manage approximately 18,000 of the more than 75,000 vaccination sites in the country, the spokesperson said, and they have administered more than 32 million doses nationwide.
Over 44% of the population has received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine, while 31.8% has been fully vaccinated, CDC data shows.