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Behind the numbers: What caused more than 37K COVID vaccines to be wasted in Michigan?

Posted at 10:41 PM, Jun 04, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-04 22:41:12-04

(WXYZ) —

From broken vials, to expired or non-viable doses, to patient no-shows and canceled appointments, and many more reports with no reason indicated, all of it adds up to wasted COVID vaccines.

The state released a break down of the more than 37,000 COVID vaccine doses wasted in Michigan since January. For perspective, out of nearly 11 million administered, 0.34 percent of vaccines have had to be tossed.

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If you look at the data by jurisdiction, it shows metro Detroit as a whole accounts for about one third of Michigan's vaccine waste.

While most reports show small handfuls of doses being discarded, there are some records where more than 200 doses were thrown out in one instance.

So who is responsible? It’s not easy to track down.

There are 538 COVID-19 Vaccine Providers in Oakland County, they collectively tossed more than 4,000 doses out of more than one million doses they received.

Most wasted doses happened in April and May, a result of broken syringes or vaccine appointment cancellations.

"Before when there was so much demand, it was not a challenge to make sure we got rid of the vaccine that was thawed," said Macomb County Health Department Health Officer Andrew Cox.

The Macomb County Health Department said they’ve only had to toss a couple hundred doses out of the 250,000 administered, usually only a few at a time that were thawed but not used.

"Typically those doses that are wasted are a result of outreach events ... where the numbers might not be well known or we are doing walk-ins," said Cox.

So where are the rest of the wasted doses coming from?

The Johnson and Johnson vaccine pause played a role. That announcement came early in the morning on a day when several J&J clinics were planned. In Wayne County alone, 1,400 thawed J&J vaccines expired during the pause. And had to be thrown out.

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Another Big source of wasted vaccines, CVS and Walgreens, but they administered more than 44 million doses and worked under unique circumstances, including administering 8 million doses across 62,000 long-term care facilities through 167,000 onsite vaccine clinics with strict handling requirements.

The CDC said in a statement, “In these clinic settings, an average of one dose per clinic was reported as wasted. Given these activities and their overall vaccine footprint, their wastage rate is very low.”

Depending on the manufacturer, each vial contains anywhere from 6 doses to 15 doses that need to be used within a short time frame.

Wastage Operational Summary by WXYZ-TV Channel 7 Detroit on Scribd

Now that supply is outpacing demand, the number of wasted doses will likely increase to prioritize getting shots in arms.

“We are able, and we’ve been directed to not turn that person away, to get that person vaccinated even if it means, unfortunately, wasting dosage. And that’s just a sign of where we’ve changed and where we are at in terms of supply and demand," said Cox.

For the week of May 31, nationally, less than 1 percent of the more than 367 million doses were wasted. Metro Detroit jurisdictions have a less than 1 percent waste rate as well.