Of the 182,874 doses of COVID vaccine wasted in the US as of late March, 128,500 were the responsibility of CVS and Walgreens. A report from Kaiser Health News says almost 50% of the doses reported to the CDC as wasted were supposed to be distributed CVS, and 21% by Walgreens. Those numbers are mostly from the beginning of the vaccination push, per the Guardian. Pfizer and Moderna shots have a very short shelf life once they’re taken out of cold storage: six and five hours, respectively. If a freezer breaks, a syringe malfunctions, or someone doesn’t show up for an appointment, shots may not make it into arms. Indeed, a CVS rep blamed challenges with transportation and "redirecting unused doses," and said "despite the inherent challenges, our teams were able to limit waste to approximately one dose per onsite vaccination clinic," Today reports.
The CDC cut the pharmacies some slack. Spokesperson Kate Fowlie said that because they were entrusted with distributing so many shots, "a higher percentage of the overall wastage would not be unexpected, particularly in an early vaccination effort that spanned thousands of locations." To wit, Walgreens said wasted shots made up less than 0.5% of the more than 8 million doses it successfully distributed through March 29. CVS added that almost all of its unused vaccines were generated early on when it was tasked with vaccinating long-term-care-facility resident and staff. And those late March numbers? They don’t include all the data—the CDC is still gathering information about doses and waste from several states and US territories. (Read more pharmacy stories.)