PHOENIX (3 On Your Side) -- Maricopa County has thrown out more than 500 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, 3 On Your Side has learned.
According to information obtained through a public records request, 553 doses of the vaccine were wasted at Maricopa County Department of Public Health's five distribution sites between Dec. 17 and Jan. 20.
Central - 152
Northeast - 106
Northwest - 134
Southeast - 49
Southwest - 112
Fields Moseley, a spokesperson for Maricopa County, says the Department of Public Health works diligently to prevent unnecessary waste of vaccines, but noted some waste is unavoidable. According to the county, some people do not show up for appointments after the doses have already been thawed for the day. Health officials say some vials of the COVID-19 vaccine also have more than five doses in them, but that is not factored into the daily scheduling.
In an effort to reduce waste, the county administers leftover doses to volunteers or other people who are eligible for the vaccine who are on standby at the end of the day, but even then, the county says there may still be waste because of manufacturing issues, like an unreadable label. There may also be equipment malfunctions or draw-up issues, like a bubble spotted in a syringe, according to Maricopa County.
Maricopa County has administered more than 153,000 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, so the wasted doses represent about 0.3% of all vaccines administered. Dr. Will Humble, the executive director of the Arizona Public Health Association and former state health director, says it's a better track record than the federally funded Vaccines For Children program, which has about a 3% wastage average.
"At first blush, 500 sounds like a lot, but when you look at it in terms of the percentage of vaccines that have been distributed at those county pods, it’s a really impressive number, I think," Humble said. "It’s a testament to both the logistics folks who set those pods up and the supply chain people who keep the vaccine coming out at the right interval so it doesn’t spoil, along with good training."
As 3 On your Side previously reported, Northern Cochise Community Hospital was forced to discard dozens of doses of the vaccine after they were stored improperly, and two other vaccine providers reported a handful of wasted doses to the state.
Northern Cochise Community Hospital submitted a report to the Arizona Department of Health Services acknowledging 70 doses of the vaccine were wasted. The report, dated Dec. 31, 2020, does not provide specific information about the storage issue.
The CDC requires all providers to report spoiled or wasted vaccine. The Arizona Department of Health Services has not responded to a 3 On Your Side request for information about how many doses of the COVID-19 vaccine have been discarded at the state-run State Farm Stadium site.
However, Steve Elliott, a spokesperson for AZDHS said, "There are instances that may arise resulting in unusable vaccine due to manufacturer issues, shipping and temperature issues, as well as handling issues that are normal in the vaccine preparation process.” Elliott did not elaborate any further about how many instances of unusable vaccine has been reported in Arizona.
Social media firestorm
After our reporting was made public, Gov. Doug Ducey took to Twitter to voice his thoughts on the doses being thrown away in Maricopa County.
The #COVID19 vaccine is a precious and limited resource — that any doses would be wasted is shocking and unacceptable. This has not and will not happen at any state-run sites, and local leaders must prevent it from ever happening again at any county-run site. https://t.co/MzLZZzg645— Doug Ducey (@dougducey) February 2, 2021
But Arizona doctors say they want to see teamwork, not a Twitter fight.
“Fighting amongst each other is not going to help the situation,” said physician leader Dr. Sam Durrani.
Dr. Durrani is one of several health care professionals who saw the social media exchange between the state and county. Ducey called the situation "shocking and unacceptable" and that this "has not and will not happen at any of the state run sites." But wasting vaccine doses is to be expected.
“You’re going to have doses here or there that for various reasons may get wasted, especially when you’re dealing with those that get thawed from sub-zero temperatures in order to be used,” said Dr. Zuhdi Jasser, a private practice physician.
ADHS said no doses of the COVID-19 vaccine have expired at State Farm Stadium or at Phoenix Municipal stadium but there have been instances of unusable vaccine due to manufacturer issues, shipping and temperature issues and handling issues. Those are some of the factors the county has cited.
“We need to have those processes in place in order to be able to account for every single vial of vaccine, checking out, checking in,” said University of Arizona College of Medicine Dr. Shad Marvasti.
Dr. Marvasti said while the number of vaccines wasted isn't high, it could always improve.