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CVS and Walgreens are the biggest vaccine wasters in the US

Walgreens and CVS have wasted more doses of COVID-19 vaccines than most U.S. state vaccination programs combined, a Kaiser Health News report finds. 

Together, the pair of pharmacies had thrown out more than 128,000 doses – more than half of the total wasted vaccines doses in the U.S. – as of March, according to a Kaiser Health News investigation. 

But perhaps more concerning, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) does not even have data on wasted doses from 15 states, meaning the agency could be blind to where precious vaccine is getting tossed out. 

More than 30 states shared data on how much vaccine they knew had been wasted in their rollout efforts with KHN, revealing that at least 182,675 more doses had been tossed out, without the CDC’s knowledge. 

CVS and Walgreens had thrown out a collective 128,000 of the 182,000 total Covid vaccine doses wasted in the U.S. as of March 29, a Kaiser Health News report found. That’s 14-times more than the greatest number wasted by a state – Texas, with 9,200 wasted doses 

In total, the CDC’s records show that 182,874 doses of Covid vaccine have been thrown out across the country, as of late March. 

That’s a small fraction of the 312.5 million delivered across the country, but not an insignificant number considering those doses could have fully vaccinated at least 91,000 people. 

Covid vaccines are fragile, to be sure. Those made by Pfizer and Moderna have to be stored at extremely cold temperatures, and are unusable if they get too warm or spend more than a fewer hours defrosted without finding someone to give them to. 

Their thin needles can break and any potential contamination renders doses unsafe to use.  

But Walgreens and CVS in particular have been under fire over much of the shot-rollout for botching scheduling and moving too slowly. 

Walgreens quietly ignored CDC and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) guidance on dosing schedules, giving both Moderna and Pfizer shots four weeks apart instead of giving the second Pfizer dose after the appropriate 21 days. 

And some people had their second does appointments abruptly cancelled – sometimes after arriving on site – after the company realized patients were being booked for second doses of shots that the store they were meant to get them at did not have in stock. 

Both companies were recruited by the federal government under the Trump administration to help administer vaccines to long term care facility residents and staff. 

CVS and Walgreens have given out millions upon millions of doses of vaccines. The KHN analysis found that CVS was responsible for about half of the wasted doses (file)

CVS and Walgreens have given out millions upon millions of doses of vaccines. The KHN analysis found that CVS was responsible for about half of the wasted doses (file) 

Officials in places like Mississippi have called the partnership with the stores a ‘fiasco,’ blaming the companies for painfully slow rollouts during the first weeks of the national vaccination campaign. 

CVS was responsible for nearly half of all wasted doses of Covid vaccines in the U.S. by the end of March. 

Walgreens, meanwhile, threw out 21 percent of the nation’s total ruined doses, according to the CDC data shared with KHN. 

By comparison, Texas was the most wasteful single state, throwing out more than 9,200 doses allocated to it. 

In total, nearly 75 percent of wasted doses were thrown out by pharmacies, while just 23 percent of tossed-out doses were wasted by states, territories and programs like the Indian Health Service’s. 

In its defense, Walgreens told KHN that it had only thrown out about half of a percent of the overall doses allocated to it through March 29. 

That would equate to about 41,000 of the 3.2 million doses the pharmacy had administered by then – far fewer than the KHN analysis suggests the company has thrown out. 

CVS, too, blamed the troubled rollout of shots to nursing homes through is federal government for ‘nearly all’ of the vaccine doses it wasted in its explanation to KHN. 

Walgreens did not offer information about when or where doses allocated to it were wasted. 

While the data on wasted doses isn’t enough to corroborate or refute CVS’s claim that the long-term care facility program led to most of the waste,  the theory certainly wasn’t refuted by health officials. 

‘To me, this ultimately just correlates with poor planning,’ Dr Michael Wasserman, past president of the California Association of Long Term Care Medicine told KHN. 

‘CVS and Walgreens didn’t have a clue when it came to interacting with nursing homes. 

‘Missed opportunities for vaccination in long-term care invariably results in deaths.’ 

Throwing out doses also wastes enormous amounts of money. 

Each dose allocated to CVS or Walgreens cost the federal government about $40, suggesting that as much as $5.2 million was wasted on wasted vaccine doses. 

That’s a small drop in the bucket, compared to the billions upon billions the U.S. has spent on development and distribution of vaccines, but it nonetheless represents taxpayer money spent just for a shot to fail to get into an arm.