NC's wasted COVID vaccines cost US government an estimated $12 million

Samantha Kummerer Image
BySamantha Kummerer WTVD logo
Friday, October 29, 2021
NC's wasted COVID vaccines cost an estimated $12M
EMBED <>More Videos

The number of wasted COVID-19 vaccines continues to increase as demand dwindles.

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- The number of wasted COVID-19 vaccines continues to increase as demand dwindles.

North Carolina vaccine providers have thrown out 703,006 doses since last December, according to data from the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS).

The wasted doses represent nearly 7% of the 10 million the state has received over the past 11 months.

The amount of unusable doses has grown by nearly 3,000% since mid-May when the ABC11 I-Team reported only 24,127 were tossed.

Since May, the number of vaccines distributed weekly has fallen considerably.

Last week's vaccine distribution declined for the eighth straight week as 69% of eligible North Carolinians reported partial vaccination, according to NCDHHS.

An open vial but not all doses administered was the top reason for waste across the state, accounting for 41% of North Carolina's wasted vaccine. Both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines contain multiple doses in a single vial.

With fewer mass vaccination sites and a trickle of daily patients, it's harder for providers to ensure all the doses in each vial are allocated. In September, the number of doses wasted because of an open vial was triple the amount wasted for this reason in May.

Around a third of the doses had to be thrown out because they expired. July and September reported the highest volumes of expired doses (63,000 and 73,000, respectively).

Vaccines drawn into a syringe but not administered and lost/unaccounted for the vaccine were the reason for more than wasted 82,000 doses.

While the COVID-19 shot is free for Americans, the United States spent nearly $12 billion just in securing 700 million doses among the three companies with authorized or approved vaccines.

Based on the U.S. contracts, a single Pfizer dose costs nearly $20, while each Moderna dose costs around $16. A shot of Johnson & Johnson factors out to around $10.

The ABC11 I-Team used these estimates to uncover North Carolina's waste amounts to around $12 million for its more than 700,000 wasted doses.

A spokesperson for NCDHHS told the ABC11 I-Team that the state is taking several steps to lower the risk of unusable doses. State officials have worked with federal officials to plan for surplus vaccines.

"Our top priority continues to be increasing vaccine uptake and prioritizing vaccination even if not all doses can be used from the multidose vial. We continue to prioritize the use of in-state supply, prior to ordering new inventory from the federal supply," an NCDHHS spokesperson wrote the I-Team.

The statewide providers who reported the highest volumes of unusable doses were Duke University Hospital (9,070), Moses H. Cone Memorial Hospital (8,494), Resourceful Clinical Laboratory (8,282) and the Cape Fear Valley Health System (8,256).

The top reason for vaccine waste varied among the providers. More than half of Wake County's wasted doses stemmed from doses being drawn into a syringe but not being administered. Duke and Cape Fear Valley reported most of their waste stemmed from expired doses.

At 6,400 wasted doses, Wake County Health Department reported nearly six times more wasted doses than Durham's Health Department (1,113). Cumberland County reported three times more waste than Durham with 3,327 unusable doses.

"Although the state is saying, 'Hey, we have abundant supply,' we need to be as careful as we can because we know the value of that vaccine," said Rodney Jenkins, Durham County's health director.

Jenkins said his staff meets regularly and orders more vaccines based on current and anticipated demand.

"We just really are committed to being great stewards of taxpayer dollars. We know that vaccines are relatively expensive to make, and transportation costs are exorbitant at times," Jenkins said.