Millions of COVID-19 shots to go to waste in the US as vaccine demand falls

And it's not easy to donate the shots to other countries either.
Ameya Paleja

Millions of COVID-19 vaccine doses will go to waste in the upcoming weeks in the U.S. as the demand for vaccination has dipped, ABC News reported. Federal data shows that states received 720 million doses of vaccines of which only 570 million have been administered. 

The U.S. had been at the forefront while ordering vaccine doses at the beginning of the pandemic. However, its vaccination coverage, as a percentage of its population, is the lowest among any wealthy country, Gizmodo reported. At 66.6 percent, the U.S. ranks 62nd in the world, falling behind Sri Lanka, Nepal as well as Iran, which has managed to vaccinate 68.4 percent of its population. 

 Why aren't people in the U.S. taking the vaccine? 

Recently, health authorities in the U.S. approved the administration of the fourth dose for older individuals and those at high risk of contracting the infection. Last April when all adults became eligible for vaccination, almost two million people were getting their first doses every day. A year later, the number has reduced to a trickle, with only 50,000 people getting their shots across the entire country. 

The drop in vaccination rates is not only due to a slowdown in new infections but also due to vaccine hesitancy that authorities haven't been able to shake off with mandates, convenience as well as incentives, epidemiologists told ABC. The World Health Organization (WHO) also mentioned the 'infodemic' of misinformation and disinformation rampant in the country, which is keeping as many as 55 million people away from the protection offered by the vaccines. 

Experts believe that those who have stayed away from vaccination so far are unlikely to change their minds now, and the doses ordered for them by the government will make their way to the dump. 

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Can anything be done to prevent wastage? 

Vaccine doses are delivered with set expiry dates and most of the doses that were supplied over the last year are nearing their expiry dates now. States such as North Carolina have already seen 1.7 million vaccine doses wasted, while 760,000vaccine doses in Oregon were designated as non-viable after crossing their expiry dates or being spoiled due to improper storage or opening. 

While vaccine wastage is not an unexpected phenomenon, when dealing with large-scale vaccinations, the U.S. did order doses far exceeding the demand for them. Where possible, vaccines are being redistributed within the states to ensure that doses with longer expiry are retained while those with shorter expiry are used first. Alternatively, the regulatory body could test to determine if the expiry dates of these doses can be extended and the vaccinations used at latter time. 

U.S. Congress has not been able to secure the funding required to ship the doses to other countries where the population awaits their first dose of COVID-19 vaccines. The proposal, while pragmatic, raises further questions with regards to vaccine authorizations by the drug adminstration in the recipient country as well as how the country will administer the second dose of the vaccine regimen. 

The situation throws light on the privilege rich nations enjoyed at beginning of the pandemic, while poorer nations have had to battle the pandemic without them. For the pandemic to end, vaccine use needs to be widespread and equitable. 

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