Health Officials Track Wasted Vaccine Doses Across Capital Region as Demand Wanes

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As public health officials across the region work to convince those who are still unvaccinated to roll up their sleeves, the News4 I-Team learned almost 100,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccine have already gone to waste in the area.

From people with appointments who failed to show up, to freezer malfunctions and power outages, even spills and broken syringes, public health officials across D.C., Maryland and Virginia are working to track every dose of COVID-19 vaccine that didn't make it into someone's arm.

As of this week, that number topped a combined 96,592 doses discarded, which represents just a sliver of the millions of vaccine doses administered across the capital region.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance directs health officials to continue to open a new vial if a patient arrives at the end of the day, even if it means some of the doses in the vial might go unused, because the priority is getting every person possible vaccinated.

In Virginia, at least 41,750 doses have gone to waste so far, and that number is likely much higher since the state does not keep data on vaccines supplied directly to drug stores and pharmacies. Records show that's where most Virginians have gotten their shots.

Records provided to the News4 I-Team show wasted doses rose each month, from very little in February, when vaccines were in hot demand, increasing month over month in March, April, May and June, with the latest data available showing 25,526 doses wasted between early June and early July.

Virginia health officials attributed the nearly 150% increase largely to waning vaccine interest from the public, forcing more unused doses left in vials at the end of each day.

In Maryland, at least 42,497 doses have gone unused thus far, which includes data from pharmacies, doctor's offices and mass vaccination sites. State health officials told the I-team they won't release specific locations for security reasons but gave an example of 1,580 doses wasted in one day at one hospital when a freezer malfunctioned.

In the District, at least 12,345 doses of vaccine have gone to waste, so far. DC Health provided the I-Team with the most detailed records indicating how many doses went to waste at each location and, in most cases, the listed reason.

Approximately one third of D.C.'s wasted doses occurred at one doctor’s office, District Urgent Care on Georgia Avenue in Northwest. Most of the nearly 4,000 wasted doses there expired in the days leading up to Memorial Day weekend.

District Urgent Care told the I-Team it notified DC Health officials that excess doses of Moderna vaccine arrived thawed, not frozen. But officials were not able retrieve the vials before the vaccines expired.

DC Health declined the I-Team's repeated requests for an interview.

District Urgent Care said it has vaccinated over 10,000 people and the office only receives doses of vaccine once the health department has scheduled patients there. That system is designed to help maximize use of all the doses in a vial.

Records indicate at least 3,192 doses of vaccine went to waste at grocery and drug stores throughout the District. According to the data provided, the majority of those, 2,206 doses, were at Walgreens pharmacies.

A spokesperson told the I-Team Walgreens is one of the largest vaccine providers in the country and its goal is to use every single available vaccine.

Health officials also pointed out some doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine expired in April while the Food and Drug Administration temporarily paused use of that vaccine after shipments had been ordered.

Reported by Jodie Fleischer and shot and edited by Steve Jones and Jeff Piper.

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