The Bulletin

Virginia Department of Health releases some information on vaccine wastage

By: - February 2, 2021 11:18 am

Nurse Lisa Bastek gives the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine to 100-year-old Annie Laura Downing during an event at Richmond Raceway in Richmond, Va., February 2, 2021. The FDA has authorized an additional booster dose for people 50 and older. (Parker Michels-Boyce/ For the Virginia Mercury)

After initially declining to provide the Mercury with data on COVID-19 vaccine wastage, the Virginia Department of Health responded to the inquiry on Tuesday morning.

Spokeswoman Melissa Gordon wrote that the department did not establish a systematic way to collect reports on wastage until Jan. 29, when VDH posted a provider reporting form on its website.

“At the time of [the] question, VDH had not yet established a systematic way to receive such reports,” Gordon wrote, “and therefore relied upon provider phone calls/emails to report such information.”

The Mercury last requested the data on Monday. At the time, Gordon said the information was not available.

Based on self-reported data before the form was released, Gordon said that VDH received two reports from health care providers that documented a total of 100 wasted doses.

The department did not identify which providers reported the wastage or why the vaccines were not administered. The Mercury has requested that information.

“Moving forward,  VDH will be able to more efficiently gather data from the new electronic tool that has been established to collect such information,” Gordon wrote. “VDH encourages vaccinators to plan ahead and count eligible persons and doses in advance prior to thawing the vaccine or removing from storage. Other best practices include having ‘standby’ lists of eligible persons and notifying these persons of the potential opportunity to ensure there are no unused doses at the end of a clinic event.”

The Mercury originally requested the data on Jan. 22 after the state’s vaccine coordinator, Dr. Danny Avula, fielded a question on wastage during a VDH telebriefing. At the time, Avula said the information was reported to the department but that he didn’t have exact figures.

“I’ll have to look that up and pull those numbers for you,” he told reporters. “I’ve heard some anecdotal stories where you have a clinic and you’ve opened a vial and there are a few doses that people aren’t showing up for. I don’t know how rampant that is.” 

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has required providers to disclose wastage since vaccines were first released in December. Its vaccination program agreement, which organizations must complete in order to administer the shots, tasks them with reporting the number of doses “that were unused, spoiled, expired, or wasted as required by the relevant jurisdiction.”

In practice, that means that hospitals, pharmacies, doctor’s offices and other provider settings should be reporting wasted doses to VDH, which then passes the information onto the CDC. But without systematic reporting for the first month and a half of Virginia’s vaccine rollout, it’s unclear if officials have a comprehensive view of wastage or if organizations are voluntarily disclosing the information.

The Mercury has also asked the department if wastage reporting is mandated by the state and whether there are any penalties for failing to disclose the information.

Virginia isn’t alone in lacking comprehensive data on vaccine wastage. In January, ProPublica reported that numerous states were failing to track doses that expired or went unused, making it nearly impossible to gather a comprehensive national picture on how many of the shots weren’t making their way into patients’ arms.

State officials in Virginia have frequently stated that the current national shortage of vaccines will limit their efforts to quickly immunize the majority of Virginians.

“Right now, there’s capacity to vaccinate everywhere in the state,” Avula said Monday during a vaccine advisory workgroup meeting. “And as you look at our daily administration numbers, you see a steadily increasing seven-day average. That’s encouraging, but it won’t keep up and it can’t keep up when we don’t have vaccine supply.” 

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Kate Masters
Kate Masters

Kate grew up in Northern Virginia before moving to the Midwest, earning her degree in journalism from the University of Missouri. She spent a year covering gun violence and public health for The Trace in Boston before joining The Frederick News-Post in Frederick County, Md. Before joining the Mercury in 2020, she covered state and county politics for the Bethesda Beat in Montgomery County, Md. She was named Virginia's outstanding young journalist for 2021 by the Virginia Press Association.