At a time when supply is constrained and time is of the essence, medical providers in many states are throwing precious doses away.
With health care providers running out of doses in droves and hustling to cancel thousands of appointments, many face an additional problem: Hobbled by strict guidelines for who can and cannot receive vaccines right now, and fines for flouting the rules, perfectly good doses are being thrown in the garbage. “I have personally heard stories like this from dozens of physician friends in a variety of different states. Hundreds, if not thousands, of doses are getting tossed across the country every day,” Ashish Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health, told NBC News.
It’s an entirely predictable outcome. When vials of doses are thawed to prepare them for use, they cannot be refrozen. Vials that have been punctured must be used within just a few hours. Combine those factors with tight state-imposed parameters for which people can currently receive the vaccine and waste is practically unavoidable—when people cancel appointments with little notice, it can be hard for health care workers to find new recipients off the street who qualify under the state’s current phase. They’re left either breaking the law or throwing doses in the garbage.
To make matters worse, state departments of health are struggling to tell how often it’s happeningor how many precious doses have been squandered. Although many states mandate reporting of vaccine waste, providers have little incentive to comply: If New York’s system is any indication, they might end up fined or under investigation.
In the Empire State, mass vaccination sites at Yankee Stadium and Citi Field have put operations on hold until the city can receive 200,000 shots per week—double what’s currently expected. But just a few weeks ago, providers were throwing out doses. As I wrote then:
“On December 28, [Gov. Andrew Cuomo] signed an executive order rolling out strict penalties—up to $1 million in fines, plus loss of medical license—for medical providers who allow people to skip the state-issued vaccination line, even when those doses are about to expire….Predictably, The New York Times reported today that some clinics throughout New York City, like the Family Health Center of Harlem, are throwing out doses that are about to expire.”