With many countries around the world crying out for COVID vaccines, the US has wasted a staggering number of them. NBC reports that according to data released this week, state governments and pharmacies have thrown away more than 15 million doses since March 1, and since the data is self-reported and incomplete, even that is likely to be an undercount. Walgreens alone reported almost 2.6 million wasted doses, while CVS reported 2.3 million, and Walmart and Rite Aid reported more than 1 million each. Texas wasted more doses than any other state, more than 517,000. North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Oklahoma also reported more than 200,000 wasted doses each.
Power outages at two Texas military facilities in May caused the loss of around 47,000 doses, but most wastage reports involved only around four doses at a time, reports NBC. Much of the wastage is believed to be due to packaging—Moderna vials carry 15 doses, while Pfizer vials carry six and Johnson & Johnson's carry five, and once a vial is punctured, all doses have to be used within 12 hours for Moderna, and six hours for the other two. CDC spokeswoman Kristen Nordlund says providers should take every opportunity to vaccinate people who show up at clinics "even if it may increase the likelihood of leaving unused doses in a vial."
The wastage is only a fraction of the more than 483 million doses that actually went into people's arms, and the 111 million the US has donated overseas—but it is still more than the entire supply of some countries, including Nepal, which has received fewer than 10 million doses for a population of almost 30 million. NPR reported last month that millions of doses on freezer shelves across the US were nearing their expiry dates, but "a combination of red tape and logistical challenges" was making it very difficult for states to directly donate the unwanted doses to countries in need. (Read more coronavirus vaccine stories.)