Is that significant?
SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (WCIA)– At least 15,676 doses of the coronavirus vaccine have been wasted in Central Illinois. More than 220,419 doses had to be thrown out statewide, according to data Target 3 requested from the Illinois Dept. of Public Health.
The statistics available for this article cover Jan. through Sept.1, meaning the number has almost certainly risen.
“It’s concerning, you know,” Gail O’Neill, the Sangamon County Dept. of Public Health Director said. “…Just that philosophically, you know, you don’t want to waste this valuable resource that we’re fortunate to have.”
It’s important to put this in context: 13,950,756 doses were given out in the state by Sept 1. 1.6 percent of that number went into the trash. And, 422,674 were administered in our viewing area. 3.7 percent of that total equals the number of doses thrown away.
However, some healthcare clinics and other facilities administering the vaccines have wasted much more doses than others.
“So you go prepared to take a variety of vaccines and to do whatever it takes to get people vaccinated,” O’Neill shared.
The Sangamon County Dept. of Public Health reported the most waste of all of the facilities in the 19 counties in WCIA’s viewing area. 2,715 doses were thrown away.
“Early on, we did have a batch that was had expired. That might have been a couple of hundred doses, actually,” O’Neill explained.
“But really, I think it’s from the variety of places that we’ve been going and the number of people.”
Carle Foundation Hospital in Urbana is the only other facility that reported more than 1,000 doses wasted, 1,695 to be exact. Paris Clinic reported 725, and the Morgan County Health Dept., 594.
The rest of the clinics reported waste ranging from five to a couple of hundred doses tossed in the trash.
“Well, we overall have been involved with 120,650 vaccines as of yesterday,” O’Neill said.
“But I just think it’s kind of a guessing game at this point. The more places you go, the more chances you do have some waste. But we still want everybody vaccinated.”
We also noticed one of the 19 counties in our viewing area reported zero waste: Menard County.
O’Neill had an explanation for that.
“We’re responsible for Menard County,” she said. “And so we take vaccine there and, you know, bring it back. Whatever’s left, we’ll have wastage there too.”
Sangamon County’s health department acts as a full-service health department for Menard County as well, according to O’Neill. She said they report waste daily, and that’s a statewide requirement.
“Every provider that enrolls with us is required to report waste,” said Heidi Clark. She’s the Division Chief of Infectious Diseases for the Illinois Dept. of Public Health.
“So that’s the only way that providers, at this point, are able to get COVID vaccines is by being enrolled COVID providers with IDPH.”
Clark said that’s the process for all publicly funded vaccines, but there are some facilities administering COVID-19 shots in Illinois that don’t have to report to IDPH.
“All of the major pharmacy partners are actually enrolled directly with the CDC,” Clark explained.
So if you add in that waste, undocumented in state data, the amount has to be even higher.
There are several reasons COVID-19 vaccines are being wasted.
“Every time, you know, you put one needle into the vial and you can’t use any more of it, then it has to go to waste in that day. There are only 6-8 hours that they can be out,” O’Neill shared.
“With the Pfizer, they currently have six doses in a vial. So if you open up a vial and do one person or two people, you’re going to have waste.”
Whereas the flu shot comes in a one dose vial.
“There are so many people that haven’t had the opportunity to have the vaccine so you don’t want to see it go to waste, but you also don’t want to expire either. It’s a balancing act right now,” O’Neill added.
It’ll be a lot easier when the vials, except there’s so many of them, you know, are single-dose or there’s a better way to manage that, she continued. “But it’ll get there.”
“Given the circumstances and the total amount, it’s a surprisingly low amount of waste,” Clark said.
“And if you have an opportunity to get one more person vaccinated, it’s worth it, even if that means the rest of the vial has to be reported as wasted.”
O’Neill said her department is returning to offering appointments. She said that should help reduce waste as well.
Clark said when vaccines first started being administered, clinics ordered piles of doses. Now, some are nearing expiration. For that reason, the state created a vaccine “matchmaker” tool. On the online platform, providers can post about vaccines they can’t use in time and others can claim them.
The Johnson & Johnson vaccine was wasted significantly less than Moderna or Pfizer brand vaccines.
O’Neill said that’s because it became available later and there was a period of a couple of months where manufacturing was halted. Plus, there are less doses per vial.