Over 53,000 COVID-19 vaccine doses wasted in South Carolina

Updated: Jun. 15, 2021 at 8:00 PM EDT
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MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. (WMBF) - Millions of COVID-19 vaccines have been given in South Carolina since the rollout began in December.

Now, new data shows thousands of those vaccines have also ended up in the trash.

WMBF Investigates received the latest data on vaccine waste across the state. It shows that over 53,000 doses have been logged as wasted in the last six months.

More than 7,100 doses of that recorded waste were because the vaccines expired, according to federal VAMS data pulled by the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control.

In comparison, DHEC reports that close to 3,750,000 Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson shots have been administered thus far.

Back in February, DHEC’s Senior Deputy for Public Health, Nick Davidson, said vaccine waste can happen for a variety of reasons. At the time, the state had administered roughly 800,000 vaccines and saw around 3,600 vaccines lost.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE | Broken vials, syringes contribute to most wasted doses in South Carolina

The leading cause then and now is due to broken vials or syringes. This can happen during the shipping process or being dropped while handled.

“When you look at them, they’re really tiny vials, and you’re wearing gloves, and so manipulating all that can be really challenging,” Davidson said.

South Carolina has lost over 22,500 shots because of this. The secondary cause for waste is not administering all the doses available after a vial is opened. Nearly 19,000 vaccines have been wasted in this part of the process.

Rounding out the total are another 4,520 doses that were drawn into syringes but not administered, while 99 doses have been logged as lost or unaccounted for.

A WMBF Investigates analysis found that Horry County vaccine providers have recorded almost 2,900 wasted shots, about 5% of the state’s total waste. The leading cause was for open vials where not all doses were administered.

The vaccines, made free to the public, have cost the U.S. federal government billions of dollars in contracts.

An official from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services told WMBF Investigates they could not provide per-vaccine dose pricing information because companies consider the information business-sensitive.

Some industry analysts estimate the Johnson & Johnson vaccine could cost $10 a dose. Pfizer shots have been thought to be $19.50. Moderna doses are estimated to cost up to $37.

An extremely rough estimate would make South Carolina’s wasted vaccine inventory worth anywhere from $532,000 to $1.97 million.

DHEC said the data pulled from VAMS is preliminary and subject to change.

“There are category limitations in VAMS for how a provider can record an unused dose,” DHEC noted in an email. “Due to these limitations and reporting delays, this VAMS data on unused doses may be inaccurate and not reflective of actual inventories.”

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