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Photo: Frederic J. Brown/AFP via Getty Images

CVS and Walgreens, two pharmacy chains that have worked with the federal government to administer COVID-19 vaccines, wasted more doses than most states combined, per government data obtained by Kaiser Health News.

Why it matters: The wasted doses raise questions about the efficacy of the vaccine rollout, especially now as the U.S. starts sending extra doses to India and other COVID-stricken countries.

By the numbers: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported 182,874 wasted doses as of late March, per KHN.

  • CVS accounted for nearly half of the doses, while Walgreens was responsible for 21% — nearly 128,500 wasted shots altogether.
  • Pfizer made up nearly 60% of wasted doses.

The other side: CVS spokesperson Mike DeAngelis said in an emailed statement the waste is a product of "transportation restrictions, limitations on redirecting unused doses, and other factors."

  • "Despite the inherent challenges, our teams were able to limit waste to approximately one dose per onsite vaccination clinic," he added.
"Vaccine waste in our retail stores is extremely limited, accounting for less than 0.1% of vaccine doses we’ve administered at retail, so less than 1 in 1000 doses have been wasted."  
— DeAngelis

A Walgreens spokesperson said in a statement: "Of the nearly 8 million doses Walgreens administered through March 29, the 0.5% percent of discarded vaccine is well under the anticipated discard rate and was related to vaccine handling, including broken vials or temperature fluctuations in our cold storage."

  • A CDC spokesperson said "a higher percentage of the overall waste would not be expected," given early vaccination efforts heavily depended on the two pharmacies, KHN reports.

Another caveat: KHN's findings are based on CDC data that does not include reports from 15 states, D.C. and multiple U.S. territories.

The big picture: The U.S. has administered over 247 million vaccines, according to the CDC.

  • Experts say it's important to track wasted doses to help identify where officials might need to make distribution adjustments, per KHN.
  • Any waste is essentially "throwing [taxpayer] money down the chute," Bruce Y. Lee, professor of health policy and management at the City University of New York, told KHN.
  • Both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines have limited shelf lives.

The bottom line: "One thing is clear: Months into the nation’s vaccination drive, the CDC has a limited view of how much vaccine is going to waste, where it's wasted and who is wasting it, potentially complicating efforts to direct doses to where they are needed most," KHN writes.

Editor's note: This article has been updated with comment from DeAngelis and Walgreens.

Go deeper

FDA set to authorize third COVID vaccine dose for immunocompromised people

A health care worker fills a syringe with Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine at a community vaccination event in Los Angeles. Photo: Robyn Beck/AFP via Getty Images

The Food and Drug Administration will update its emergency use authorization for the Pfizer and Moderna coronavirus vaccines as early as Thursday to allow immunocompromised people to get a third dose, a source familiar with the matter told Axios.

Why it matters: Data suggest that people with weakened immune systems don't generate strong enough levels of protection against the virus with just two doses, but a third dose could significantly help.

Aug 12, 2021 - World

New Zealand to gradually reopen to the world next year

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern during a July press conference in Wellington, New Zealand. Photo: Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced plans Thursday to reopen the country's borders in 2022 while maintaining a COVID-19 elimination strategy — with vaccinated travelers from low-risk countries not required to quarantine.

Why it matters: New Zealand has some of the lowest coronavirus rates in the world, reporting fewer than 2,900 infections and 26 deaths from the virus since the pandemic began. It's detected no community cases for 166 days, containing COVID-19 to managed quarantine facilities.

Updated Aug 11, 2021 - Axios Twin Cities

Minnesota latest state to mandate vaccines or tests for state workers

Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz (D). Photo: Scott Olson via Getty Images

Minnesota on Wednesday joined a growing list of U.S. states mandating COVID-19 vaccines or testing for state employees in an effort to fight the spread of the highly transmissible Delta variant.

What they're saying: "Vaccination is the best way to keep employees and the people we serve safe and ensure the Delta variant does not derail our economic recovery," Gov. Tim Walz (D) said in a statement announcing the mandate.