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US throws away more than 15 million Covid shots

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Waste doses of vaccines represent a small fraction of the more than 438 million doses that have been distributed in the United States.

Since March 1, pharmacies and state governments in the US have thrown out at least 15.1 million doses of Covid-19 vaccine, according to government statistics obtained by NBC News.

The CDC provided data Tuesday in response to public records request from four large pharmacy chains that each reported over 1 million wasted doses. By far the biggest wastage was recorded by Walgreens (almost 2.6 million lost doses). 2.3 million wasted doses at CVS, 1.6 million at Walmart, and 1.1 million at Rite Aid.

The broadcaster notes that the number of discarded doses of vaccines is a small fraction of the more than 438 million doses that were distributed in the United States as of last Tuesday, and 111.7 million additional doses that were transferred to other countries as of August 3.

According to NBC, the data provided by the authorities is incomplete and does not contain information about some states and institutions. In addition, government documents do not specify why vaccine doses were not used. But this can be due to damage to the vials, storage conditions or errors in the dilution of vaccines.

In general, there could be many reasons why vaccination sites may have to designate doses as wasted, ranging from a cracked vial or a dilution error to a freezer malfunction or an excess of doses in a vial compared to the number of persons who desire them.

Additionally, a waste report may be generated if a vial contains less doses than it should.

“It’s really tragic that we have a situation where vaccines are being wasted while lots of African countries have not had even 5 percent of their populations vaccinated,” said Sharifah Sekalala, an associate professor of global health law at England’s University of Warwick, who studies inequalities in infectious diseases.

“A lot of the global south is unvaccinated. The African continent is still below 10 percent, and that’s just a huge inequality and it’s really problematic.”

CDC spokeswoman Kristen Nordlund said in an email that the share of Covid vaccines wasted “remains extremely low, which is evidence of the strong partnership among the federal government, jurisdictions, and vaccine providers to get as many people vaccinated as possible while reducing vaccine wastage across the system.”

Nordland added, “As access to Covid-19 vaccine has increased, it is important for providers to not miss any opportunity to vaccinate every eligible person who presents at vaccine clinics, even if it may increase the likelihood of leaving unused doses in a vial.”

A CVS spokesman made a similar point, writing in an email: “While we regret having to dispose of any vaccine, we’re extremely proud of our store employees who’ve helped administer more than 30 million doses. When given the option of potentially saving a life or slightly improving our reported waste figures, we’ll always choose the former.”

Walgreens, Walmart, and Rite Aid all declined to comment immediately.

“Our goal has always been ensuring every dose of vaccine is used,” Walgreens spokesperson Kris Lathan told Kaiser Health News in May.

Photo by Keith Birmingham/MediaNews Group/Pasadena Star-News via Getty Images

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