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Yes, more than 82 million COVID-19 vaccine doses have been thrown out

As of June 9, CDC data show over 87 million COVID-19 vaccine doses were thrown out in the U.S., due to a variety of reasons, including vaccine vial expiration.

Since the first COVID-19 vaccines were approved in December 2020, the United States has shipped out more than 687 million doses nationwide, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The majority of those vaccine doses have gone to pharmacies, local health departments, doctor’s offices, and health clinics across the country. 

A recent NBC News report claimed the U.S. wasted over 82 million COVID-19 vaccine doses from December 2020 to May 2022. VERIFY viewer Kristi recently emailed our team asking if the report was true. 

THE QUESTION

Have more than 82 million COVID-19 vaccine doses been thrown out in the U.S.?

THE SOURCES

  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) 
  • U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) 
  • National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Disease (NCIRD)
  • CVS Pharmacy
  • Walgreens

THE ANSWER

This is true.

Yes, more than 82 million COVID-19 vaccine doses have been thrown out in the U.S. 

WHAT WE FOUND

VERIFY submitted a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to the CDC to get the total number of COVID-19 vaccine doses wasted in the U.S. from Dec. 14, 2020, to June 9, 2022. The data show that approximately 87,271,388 doses were wasted in that time frame. The total number includes vaccine wastage data from pharmacies working in partnership with the CDC, states and U.S. territories. 

A CDC spokesperson also confirmed to VERIFY that between December 2020 and late May 2022, nearly 82 million of the more than 687 million COVID-19 vaccine doses that were sent out nationally were thrown out.

In a letter accompanying the FOIA request, program staff in the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Disease (NCIRD) provided a detailed explanation on why vaccine wastage typically occurs. 

“There are many circumstances in which a vaccine dose might be identified as wasted, including when it is wasted, spoiled, or expired. Though providers make every effort to reduce wastage, sometimes wastage occurs as part of the process to ensure that anyone wanting a vaccine can receive one. With decreased consumer demand and fewer vaccines administered over time, the percentage of doses wasted has increased in recent months,” the NCIRD said. 

CVS is the nation’s largest pharmacy chain. Since vaccines first became available, CVS Pharmacy has distributed about 1 in 10 COVID-19 vaccine shots. According to CDC vaccine wastage data, CVS Pharmacy reported discarding nearly 13 million COVID-19 vaccine doses as of June 9.

In an email, a CVS Pharmacy spokesperson told VERIFY that vaccine vials have a “very limited shelf life,” which means “unused vaccine will be disposed of.” 

“While we regret having to dispose of any vaccine, we’re extremely proud of our pharmacy employees who’ve helped administer more than 67 million doses since the pandemic began,” CVS said. “When given the option of potentially saving a life or slightly improving our reported waste figures, we’ll always choose the former.” 

Walgreens, which is the second-largest pharmacy chain in the U.S. after CVS, threw out more than 8 million COVID-19 vaccine doses as of June 9, according to CDC vaccine wastage data obtained by VERIFY. 

A Walgreens spokesperson said in a statement that “vaccine waste may occur for a variety of reasons, including no-show appointments, cancellations or stability of the vial once open.” 

“The latest CDC guidance advises that providing COVID-19 vaccinations should be prioritized, even if it leads to vaccine waste. As such, our team members take proactive steps to minimize this waste, but our primary focus is vaccinating the communities we serve,” Walgreens said.

A U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) spokesperson told VERIFY it is now working with vaccine manufacturers to reconfigure vial sizes, including single-use vials, in an effort to optimize supply and reduce unused doses. 

The VERIFY team works to separate fact from fiction so that you can understand what is true and false. Please consider subscribing to our daily newsletter, text alerts and our YouTube channel. You can also follow us on Snapchat, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and TikTok. Learn More »

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