15.1M COVID-19 vaccines tossed out in US since March, data shows

Pharmacies and state governments have wasted at least 15.1 million COVID-19 vaccines since March, according to government data obtained by NBC News

The CDC released the data Aug. 31 in response to a public records request made by NBC News. The number is likely an undercount, as it doesn't include data from several states and some federal providers. The data is self-reported by the providers and doesn't include the reason the shots were thrown out. 

Four pharmacy chains reported more than 1 million wasted shots each, with Walgreens reporting nearly 2.6 million wasted doses, more than any other pharmacy, state or other vaccine provider, according to NBC News. CVS reported 2.3 million wasted doses, Walmart reported 1.6 million, and Rite Aid reported 1.1 million. 

"It's really tragic that we have a situation where vaccines are being wasted while lots of African countries have not had even 5 percent of their populations vaccinated," Sharifah Sekalala, PhD, an associate professor of global health law at England's University of Warwick, told NBC News

Kristen Nordlund, a spokesperson for the CDC, told NBC News that the number of COVID-19 vaccines wasted "remains extremely low, which is evidence of the strong partnership among the federal government, jurisdictions and vaccine providers to get as many people vaccinated as possible while reducing vaccine wastage across the system." 

A CVS spokesperson told NBC News: "While we regret having to dispose of any vaccine, we're extremely proud of our store employees who've helped administer more than 30 million doses. When given the option of potentially saving a life or slightly improving our reported waste figures, we'll always choose the former."

Walgreens, Walmart and Rite Aid didn't immediately respond to NBC News' requests for comment. 

Vaccines may be wasted because of a crack in a vial, an error diluting a vaccine or a freezer malfunction. There may also be more doses in a vial than people who want a shot. 

More than 441 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines had been distributed in the U.S. as of Aug. 31, according to CDC data

No state health department wasted as many doses as pharmacy chains, NBC News reported. Texas wasted the most doses of any of the states included in the data, with 517,746 doses thrown out. Seven states weren't included in the data. 

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