Fewer than 2,400 doses of the highly sought-after coronavirus vaccine were wasted or spoiled in Wisconsin through February, with the single largest loss happening when an employee did it on purpose, data provided by the state health department shows.
The Wisconsin Department of Health Services provided the data Saturday at the request of The Associated Press. It shows that through February, there had been more than 1.4 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine administered and just 2,349 were wasted or spoiled. That is a spoilage rate of 0.16%.
“Here’s the bottom line: This stuff is gold,” said Julie Willems Van Dijk, deputy secretary of the state health department on Monday. “I think every vaccinator who touches a bottle of Pfizer, Moderna or J&J knows it. ... I’ve talked to people with these wasted vaccines and they are heartbroken.”
The fact that Wisconsin’s wastage rate is more than 10 times below the federal government’s standard of 2% is a success story, she said.
There are several reasons a dose would be wasted, included its fragility and the requirement that doses are used within a certain amount of time, Willems Van Dijk said. Not every clinic has a waiting list of people looking for leftover vaccine, and the more people are vaccinated the harder it becomes to find people at the last minute, she said.
“We have situations where things happen and people don’t show up and there are extra doses,” Willems Van Dijk said. “There’s a snowstorm and 20 people don’t show up. Or you have no-shows.”
As more people get vaccinated, wastage will become a bigger issue, she said. That’s why the federal government is working with manufacturers to produce single doses and smaller vials that contain fewer doses, Willems Van Dijk said.
The data cover vaccinators who receive their allocation from the state and are required to report waste or spoilage data, the state health department said. The first doses were administered in mid-December, and as of Sunday nearly 23% of the state’s population had received at least one dose, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Entities not required to report waste or spoiled vaccine to the state are those that receive vaccine directly from the federal government, such as the Indian Health Service, the Veterans Administration, Department of Corrections, and a pharmacy partnership program that was sending doses to certain Walgreens locations.
However, if those entities routinely report non-coronavirus vaccinations to the state, their data may be included, the state health department said.
Of the total wasted in Wisconsin, roughly 20% was due to the action of one former pharmacist who pleaded guilty in February to purposefully spoiling more than 500 doses at Aurora Medical Center in Grafton, a suburb of Milwaukee.
There are other examples of thousands of doses being wasted in Tennessee, Florida, Ohio and other states. The reasons vary from shoddy record keeping to accidentally trashing hundreds of shots.
Waste is common in global inoculation campaigns, with millions of doses of flu shots trashed each year. By one World Health Organization estimate, as many as half of vaccines in previous campaigns worldwide have been thrown away because they were mishandled, unclaimed or expired.
Waste of the COVID-19 vaccine appears to be quite small, although the U.S. government has yet to release numbers shedding insight on the extent.
In Wisconsin, Aurora Medical Center in Grafton reported the highest number of wasted doses at 522. The next highest was Aurora BayCare Medical Center in Green Bay with 191. Only three others reported more than 100 doses wasted or spoiled, while 119 vaccinators reported fewer than 10.
New site set
Also on Monday, Gov. Tony Evers announced that the Wisconsin Center in Milwaukee was the state’s first federally supported vaccination site. That means the Federal Emergency Management Agency will take over operation of the site starting this week. The Alliant Energy Center in Madison is being considered for a similar operation.
The state was committing an additional 7,000 doses of vaccine a week for the Milwaukee site, Evers’ office said.
Milwaukee is home to the state’s largest minority population, which is at a higher risk of severe illness from COVID-19, but vaccinations have lagged there compared to among white people and state averages.
“This vaccination center is an important resource for expanding and expediting vaccine availability to communities that need it the most,” said acting regional FEMA administrator Kevin Sligh in a statement.
Meanwhile, Wisconsin has reported 31 cases of the B117 variant of COVID-19 first identified late last year in the United Kingdom and one case of the B1351 variant first identified in South Africa. Both are considered more contagious than the initial coronavirus causing COVID-19. The state hasn’t detected another worrisome variant first found in Brazil.
The Wisconsin State Laboratory of Hygiene, based at UW-Madison, is getting $2.7 million in federal funds to expand the whole genome sequencing necessary to identify such variants, state officials said. The lab will be able to do sequencing on 400 to 500 samples a week, up from 250 to 300 before.
The Milwaukee City Health Department Laboratory and UW–Madison’s AIDS Vaccine Research Laboratory are also doing the sequencing on select samples from patients tested for COVID-19.
State Journal reporter David Wahlberg contributed to this report.