TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — COVID-19 vaccinations are precious, but Florida has wasted thousands of shots to date. To some, it's unfortunate but expected. Others are challenging the state to do better.
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As of Feb. 9, Florida Health reported at least 4,143 shots had been squandered across the state. Officials said in a statement that most were broken either in transit or during use. Other doses spoiled before injection.
More than 1,000 shots were ruined in a single incident in West Palm Beach. The Health Care District of Palm Beach County said someone mistakenly turned off a refrigerator.
"This was a single, isolated incident caused by human error that had absolutely no impact on patient safety," the organization said in a statement. “The Health Care District also regards the loss of even a single vaccine as one too many."
Dr. Julie Swann studies health system operation at North Carolina State. While Florida's losses were unfortunate, she reminds they were insignificant in the big picture. Waste accounts for only about 0.1% of the 2.8 million shots Florida has completed.
"It's so frustrating to think that some of these doses might be wasted when they are so needed," Swann said. "But, overall, I think that wastage is not as much of a problem as it is really just we have extremely-limited supply right now."
Other states have lost a similar amount of shots. In Pennsylvania, health officials reported wasting 299 of nearly 312,000 doses through Jan. 11, the same percent as Florida.
"The majority of discarded vaccine is related to vials broken in handling and syringe issues, such as bent or broken needles or clients refusing after the vaccine dose was drawn," Pennsylvania health officials said in a statement.
Texas is an exception, however. The Lone Star State has lost fewer doses than Florida. Its latest data shows only 2,029 of its 3.3 million administered shots went to waste. That is less than .01%.
Infectious Disease Specialist Dr. Fred Southwick has challenged Florida to do better. The doctor, who works with the University of Florida, said he understands no rollout is perfect but, with lives on the line, he believed officials needed to refine their efforts and avoid as much waste as possible.
"The vaccine is a complex system, but it … could be rendered more highly reliable," Southwick said. "Your system, when there is a problem, don't blame any individuals. Look at your system, redesign it and continually improve it."
Florida looks to be listening. The health department has called for an audit of the West Palm Beach incident, which was already underway. The report's results are expected by the end of the week.
Finding efficiency could ensure more success and less waste in the coming months as the nation prepares for a new vaccine from Johnson & Johnson to bolster supply. Florida's governor said earlier this week he was hopeful the single-shot would be approved for emergency use by the end of the month.
The Centers for Disease Control also said it's asking states to track and share the amount of vaccine wasted. Officials planned to offer that data to the public online soon.