As demand for COVID-19 vaccines collapses in many areas of the U.S., states are scrambling to use stockpiles of doses before they expire and have to be added to the millions that have already gone to waste.
From some of the least vaccinated states, like Indiana and North Dakota, to some of the most vaccinated states, like New Jersey and Vermont, public health departments are shuffling doses around in the hopes of finding providers that can use them.
State health departments told The Associated Press they have tracked millions of doses that went to waste, including ones that expired, were in a multi-dose vial that couldn’t be used completely or had to be tossed for some other reason like temperature issues or broken vials.
Nearly 1.5 million doses in Michigan, 1.45 million in North Carolina, 1 million in Illinois and almost 725,000 doses in Washington couldn’t be used.
The percentage of wasted doses in California is only about 1.8%, but in a state that has received 84 million doses and administered more than 71 million of them, that equates to roughly 1.4 million doses. Providers there are asked to keep doses until they expire, then properly dispose of them, the California Department of Public Health said.
The problem is not unique to the U.S. More than a million doses of the Russian Sputnik vaccine expired this week inn Guatemala, because nobody wanted to take the shot.
Vaccination program managers say that tossing out doses is inevitable in any inoculation campaign because of the difficulty in aligning supply and demand for a product with a limited shelf life.
But the coronavirus pandemic has killed nearly 6 million people and shattered economies across the globe, and every dose that goes to waste feels like a missed opportunity considering how successful the vaccines are in preventing death and serious disease.
The average number of Americans getting their first shot is down to about 80,000 a day, the lowest point since the U.S. vaccination campaign began in December 2020. About 76% of the U.S. population has received at least one shot and roughly 65% of all Americans are fully vaccinated.
With demand so low, states will undoubtedly be confronted with more waste in the months ahead, although they will benefit from any booster expansions.
Idaho, for example, has 230,000 doses on hand but is only averaging fewer than 2,000 doses administered a week.
Oregon’s vaccination rate is slightly higher than the national average, but the health authority there said last week that they have “significant excess vaccine on hand” because of the recent drop in demand. The state is trying to use up as many of the 716,000 doses in its inventory as possible.
Rhode Island has the highest percentage of residents who are fully vaccinated in the nation, at slightly more than 80%, but the health department reported having 137,000 doses on hand last week. Health officials say they need them for a big push to increase the vaccination rate for booster doses.
Health officials in some states have developed “matchmaker” programs to connect vaccine providers with excess doses with providers seeking doses. Many said they’re attempting to redistribute doses with expiration dates that are quickly approaching. New Jersey has a task force that has transferred more than 600,000 doses around the state since June. West Virginia has offered to transfer Pfizer adult doses to nearby states.