Raleigh, NC—To help improve future efforts, researchers are reporting detailed information on COVID-19 vaccine shipments and wastage across the United States shortly after those vaccines became available.

The goal is not to place blame, according to the study team, but among the findings was that CVS and Walgreens had the most wastage, followed by much lower amounts at Rite Aid, the Indian Health Service, Publix, and Kroger. At the same time, among the states, Missouri had the highest percentage of doses wasted, followed by Tennessee, New York, Georgia, Arkansas, and New Mexico.

Reporting of the data was part of a collaboration of North Carolina State University (NCSU) with BuzzFeed News in New York City.

"The development and distribution of COVID-19 vaccines has been a monumental undertaking," stated corresponding author Ali Hajbabaie, PhD, an assistant professor of civil, construction and environmental engineering at NCSU. "And while it's been a remarkable accomplishment, there are also opportunities for us to learn how to improve the vaccine supply chain. What are the logistical challenges associated with transportation and distribution of vaccines for COVID-19? How can we study this? What can we learn from it?"

Coauthor Leila Hajibabai, PhD, added, "For this work, we focused on collecting data regarding vaccine shipment and wastage. And we're making that data publicly available to encourage the broader research community to analyze the data so that we can learn as much from it as possible. We also want to inspire other researchers to make their data publicly available in a timely manner."

"We did some simple analyses in this paper to highlight the potential of the data, but we think there is much more to be done, and we want to tap into the expertise of other researchers to make the most of this information," Dr. Hajbabaie noted.

Vaccine shipment data were collected from the CDC, including type of vaccine, the amount of vaccine, and the date that each specific shipment was sent to each of the 47,188 specific vaccination sites—such as pharmacies, clinics, hospitals, and physician offices. The information is from January 1, 2021, to March 31, 2021—early in vaccination efforts.

The study also included data on the amount of vaccine that was spoiled and subsequently discarded. Reasons included a broken vial, improper storage, or expired product. Wastage data was available for 58 or 92 large vaccines awardees nationally, the authors pointed out.

"This data was not made available outside of the CDC until we asked for it," Dr. Hajbabaie advised. "We were only able to get this data due to a collaboration with BuzzFeed, which obtained the data from CDC under a FOIA [Freedom of Information Act] request."

"In the paper, we outline some directions for future work, such as how to account for vaccine hesitancy in order to optimize the supply chain and distribution network for vaccination moving forward," Dr. Hajibabai stated. "For example, we can estimate the demand and waste accordingly and make recommendations to seamlessly schedule patients and reduce wastage."

The study noted that, within the time period for which data was available, 179.7 million vaccine doses were shipped, and 182.8 thousand doses were reported as spoiled—0.102% wastage. The authors noted that 0.0241% of Janssen vaccines, 0.0867% of Moderna vaccines, and 0.1221% of Pfizer vaccines were wasted, adding, "This observation is as expected as the Janssen vaccine does not require storage at a cold temperature while the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines do."

While the study showed the large pharmacy chains (CVS and Walgreens) with the highest wastage, researchers pointed out that those companies "have received a considerable number of doses." Overall, CVS and Walgreens collectively received 11% of total doses at the time, according to the study.

Researchers pointed out that six awardees recorded around 83% of wasted vaccines, and the remaining 52 awardees recorded 17% wastage based on the data available.

Examples in the study noted that 1.7% of Moderna vaccine doses were wasted in the Virgin Islands, and at CVS, 0.1% of Janssen, 0.9% of Moderna, and 0.83% of Pfizer vaccines were wasted.

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