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Wasted Vaccine Doses Mount Nationwide as Delta Surge Continues

August 11, 2021 by Reece Nations
Workers organize paperwork and medical supplies as people wait in their cars to get a COVID-19 vaccination on Friday, March 12, 2021, in Memphis, Tenn. (AP Photo/Adrian Sainz)

More than a million COVID-19 immunization doses have gone to waste throughout the United States since the start of the national vaccination program as the highly contagious delta variant fuels a surge in nationwide hospitalizations.

Alabama ranks last in terms of population percentage that is fully vaccinated against COVID-19 at 35%, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data. State health officials are continuing to grapple with low demand for the vaccine as thousands of potentially life-saving inoculations begin to expire. More than 65,500 doses became unusable in Alabama due to a lack of recipients, according to the Associated Press.

“Folks are supposed to have common sense,” Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey said to reporters in July. “But it’s time to start blaming the unvaccinated folks, not the regular folks. It’s the unvaccinated folks that are letting us down.”

Ivey continued, “The new cases of COVID are because of unvaccinated folks. Almost 100% of the new hospitalizations are with unvaccinated folks. And the deaths are certainly occurring with unvaccinated folks.” 

In late July, the AP reported that Louisiana was forced to dispose of more than 79,000 vaccine doses for various reasons — including power outages, mishandling, storage issues and lack of demand. 

While progress has been made on the front as of late, just under 38% of Louisiana’s population is fully vaccinated — making it tied with Arkansas for the third least vaccinated state in the country.

“It has never been more clear that we are in an unchecked COVID surge that, in addition to threatening the health and wellbeing of many Louisianans, also threatens the capacity of our hospitals and medical facilities to deliver care to their patients,” Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards said in a written statement. 

“That is simply unacceptable, and after reviewing new data from the CDC, speaking with public health advisors, and hearing from hospital leadership and the business community, I am reinstating Louisiana’s statewide mask mandate indoors, including in schools to protect our children who are too young to be vaccinated and our teachers and staff.”

Edwards’ statement continued, “This decision is not one I take lightly, but as the fourth surge of COVID-19 is upon us, we know that mask wearing when you are in public is one way to greatly lower your risk of spreading or catching COVID. Being vaccinated against COVID-19 is another.”

In Texas, over 420,000 COVID-19 vaccine doses have spoiled, expired or been mishandled since the state began receiving shipments in December 2020, according to Texas Department of State Health Services data. The majority of the vaccine waste in the state has occurred since May, prior to the rampant spread of the delta variant.

Through a series of executive actions, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced on Monday he had directed the state health department to utilize staffing agencies to find additional medical staff from outside the state to assist in COVID-19 operations. Abbott also sent a letter to the Texas Hospital Association requesting that hospitals voluntarily postpone non-serious elective medical procedures until further notice.

“The State of Texas is taking action to combat the recent rise in COVID-19 cases and ensure that our hospitals and communities have the resources and support they need to mitigate the virus,” Abbott said in a written statement. “Texans can help bolster our efforts by getting vaccinated against COVID-19. The COVID-19 vaccine is safe and effective, and it is our best defense against this virus.”

In Georgia, a new CDC-funded pilot program is promoting COVID-19 vaccine confidence through a series of pop-up events throughout the state by partnering with the state department of health and local organizations. Patrons of the pop-ups will be able to get vaccinated for free without the need of an appointment, insurance or identification.

The events will take place from Aug. 14 through Sept. 21 throughout neighborhoods in cities including Atlanta, Savannah, and Athens, according to the CDC. The program, known as “Say ‘YES’ Summer,” aims to increase vaccine uptake against the backdrop of local art, music, and culture. Georgians aged 12 and older are eligible for the vaccine.

“Unfortunately, we can expect COVID numbers to keep growing. People who are unvaccinated or skip their second dose of vaccine are targets for infection,” Kathleen Toomey, commissioner of the Georgia Department of Public Health, said in a written statement. “Getting vaccinated is the best way to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and the delta variant. High vaccination coverage will reduce spread of the virus in your community and elsewhere – and help prevent new variants from emerging.”

Although the trend of unused inoculations in the U.S. is troubling, it is uncommon. Vaccine waste has represented a minuscule portion of the doses distributed throughout the course of the Biden administration’s vaccine program as 166,861,912 people — or roughly 50.3% — of U.S. residents are fully vaccinated against COVID-19. 

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