Governments Reluctant to Measure Vaccine Waste
Problems with the supply and distribution of coronavirus vaccines continue to mount, but so, too, do questions about how many doses are going to waste – either through spoilage or being thrown away.
It’s not a metric states are eager to count, or vaccine dispensaries like clinics and hospitals eager to share:
Experts say that waste reporting is essential during a vaccination campaign to encourage careful handling and the use of every viable dose and, more importantly, to identify potential problems in the shipping and cold storage operations. With inconsistent reporting requirements and no enforcement of a federal mandate to report wastage, vaccine providers have little incentive to acknowledge wasting vaccines, said Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of the School of Public Health at Brown University.
But the incentive not to report waste is enormous:
Clinics and hospitals have “gotten slammed” when the media has learned of them wasting even a few doses, he said. “And the signal to everybody else is, if you have waste, don’t report it. Because if you do, you’re gonna get into a lot of trouble. That combination means, at least in my assessment, there’s a lot of waste and a lot of underreporting of that waste.”
Part of the reason for wasted vaccines are state guidelines on who can receive vaccines at any given time:
…federal officials have begun to urge that priority guidelines not get in the way of using vaccines. “It’s more important to get people vaccinated than to perfectly march through each prioritized group,” Alex Azar, secretary of health and human services under President Donald Trump, said at a briefing on Jan. 6.
This means that a pharmacist should use a dose that’s about to expire on any available person — even someone who isn’t in a priority group — rather than letting it go in the trash. “There’s always someone in line. The whole nation is in line,” said Lori Freeman, chief executive officer of the National Association of County and City Health Officials. “There’s no reason for any vaccine to go to waste.”
Flexibility, and a heaping dose of common sense, could prevent waste, and get more people vaccinated. Eventually, more vaccine will be available, and that should ease concerns about waste, government-approved groupings, and so on. It can’t come some enough.