Arizona county discarded over 500 doses of virus vaccine

FILE - In this Jan. 13, 2021, file photo, health care workers receive a COVID-19 vaccination at Ritchie Valens Recreation Center, Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2021, in Pacoima, Calif. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez, File)

More than 500 unused doses of COVID-19 vaccine have been discarded in Arizona’s most populous county, according to health officials who say doing so helps maintain quality.

The Maricopa County Department of Public Health had to waste 553 doses across five distribution sites between Dec. 17 and Jan. 20, KPHO-TV reported Tuesday with information gained from a public records request.

“We have worked closely with our health care partners to report to us daily what they consider vaccine waste,” the county said in a statement. “That means if there is any concern about the quality of the vaccine or any information is not readable on the label, manufacturers have advised providers to throw out the vaccine in order to maintain a safe operation.”

County spokesperson Fields Moseley says the health department works diligently to prevent the waste of vaccine, but he noted some waste is unavoidable.

The county said some people do not show up for appointments after doses have already been thawed for the day, and some vials have more than five doses in them. Moseley said the county has administered leftover doses to volunteers and others who are eligible for the vaccine and on standby to help prevent waste.

Dr. Cara Christ, director of the state Department of Health Services, said Wednesday vaccine doses with issues such as damage from shipping or a flaw in a vial are accounting for most of the waste.

Banner Health, the state’s largest hospital system, works hard to minimize losing any doses, said Dr. Marjorie Bessel, chief clinical officer. But it has encountered issues like the ones Christ cited.

“Those vaccines are discarded for your safety,” Bessel said.

Dr. Will Humble, executive director of the Arizona Public Health Association and former state health director, said the state has discarded 0.3% of its doses. That is relatively low compared to the 5% wastage seen at places such as pediatric offices, where medical staff handle more than one kind of vaccine, Humble added.

“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.”

Republican Gov. Doug Ducey said Tuesday on Twitter that vaccine doses going to waste is “shocking and unacceptable” and that it must be prevented from happening.

The state on Wednesday reported 2,296 additional confirmed virus cases and 214 more deaths.

The number of infections is thought to be far higher because many people have not been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected with the virus without feeling sick.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some — especially older adults and people with existing health problems — it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.

Republished with the permission of the Associated Press.