Our analysis of data from the Texas Department of State Health Services found 350 of those wasted doses are in Harris County.
At the county level, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo previously said 20 doses were lost “because two vials fell and broke because a gust of wind passed and five (doses), there was simply nobody to give them to.”
The hundreds of wasted doses are just a small percent of the overall 3,160,000 vaccine doses Texas has received so far, but with thousands of residents on waiting lists to get a vaccine, doctors say the “precious commodity” should not go to waste.
INTERACTIVE: 13 Investigates maps out every provider that reported vaccine waste to the state. The larger dots indicate more waste based on the amount of vaccines each provider was shipped. Explore the map below to see details on why the vaccines were wasted. On mobile device? Click here for a full screen experience.
Within 45 minutes of receiving its first doses of the COVID-19 vaccine from the state in December, Dr. David Ellent, a physician at Genesis Medical Group, said doctors worked through Christmas to administer it to personnel who qualify for the first phase of the state’s immunization plan.
“Each dose, which is not going to a health care professional, goes to the patients or goes to a community member to make sure not a single dose is wasted,” he said. “This is a very precious commodity.”
The rules in the state vaccination plan are clear and mention waste 11 times. Whenever a dose is wasted, providers are required to report it to the state within 24 hours.
Each Moderna vaccine contains 10, or sometimes 11, doses and they must all be used within six hours of when the vial is opened, according to health guidelines.
The Pfizer vaccine has to be stored at a certain temperature and once thawed must be used and cannot be re-frozen, according to the company.
Statewide, 40% of vaccine waste was due to the product being spoiled and 20% was due to the vaccine being stored at too warm of a temperature, according to the data.
According to the state data, 7.7% of the 1,751 vaccine doses reported wasted were at Memorial Hermann The Woodlands Medical Center.
“Over the Christmas holiday, the team thawed enough doses to administer to those who were scheduled to come in and receive the vaccination; unfortunately, many people cancelled, which led to 135 doses not being administered that week,” the hospital said in a statement to 13 Investigates. “We, of course, deeply regret that any amount received was not administered. We have provided further education about the many processes in place to ensure this does not happen again. Overall, Memorial Hermann has administered more than 77,000 vaccinations and we are committed to ensuring that all vaccinations we receive are safely administered.”
A Clinicas Mi Doctor location on Broadway Street in Houston reported the most number of doses wasted with 230 vaccine doses that had to be thrown out due to not being stored in a cool enough temperature, according to the Texas DSHS data.
“On January 2nd, Clinicas Mi Doctor- #23 Broadway location experienced an equipment failure, resulting in a temperature excursion for 230 doses of Moderna Covid-19 Vaccine. The issue was caught upon return to work on Monday, January 4th. The manufacture was contacted and a review determined that the vaccine was to be wasted and unusable. Replacement doses were issued. Clinicas Mi Doctor is committed to the safe distribution of the COVID-19 Vaccine and is taking steps to ensure equipment is more closely monitored,” a company spokesperson said in a statement to 13 Investigates.
We also looked at which providers reported the most waste based on how many overall doses were received. Our analysis found Orthopaedic Specialists of Austin has the highest percent of waste with 63 of the 100 doses it received reported as wasted due to poor refrigeration, according to the Texas DSHS data.
13 Investigates reached out to Orthopaedic Specialists of Austin after we received the state from Texas DSHS late Friday afternoon, but the office was closed.
Lack of access
Harris Health System CEO Dr. Esmaeil Porsa told 13 Investigates said the lack of access to the vaccine is now impacting people disproportionately impacted by COVID-19,
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The health system, which serves as a safety net for the county’s vulnerable and uninsured, said it had to cancel hundreds of vaccine appointments last week at seven locations throughout the county due to lack of supply.
Porsa said Harris Health has a system in place to ensure every single dose is used as soon as they receive it, but the supply just isn’t there.
Talking about the efforts the health system goes through to avoid waste, Porsa recalled a recent day that was spent administering vaccines. After the end of that long day, he said they realized they had about eight to 10 extra doses that needed to be used before they were considered bad.
“The staff actually stayed behind a couple of hours finding additional patients that we could administer the vaccine to,” Porsa said. “I am very proud of the way we have administered the vaccines, the minimum amount of wastage.”
Ellent, an oncologist, said the vaccine offers more than just protection against the virus for his cancer patients, who are already in isolation while they undergo chemotherapy.
“Cancer is difficult enough. You put COVID on top of it and that is devastating,” he said. “I’m giving them hope and I’m giving them the world because before that they can’t even go outside. They’re afraid. The patients talk through the screen with their family members. It becomes like a prison. … Vaccine actually gives hope to the patients to be broken out from this chain.”
13 Investigates has heard from residents across the county who say they’ve called several providers trying to get an appointment. At Genesis Medical Group, 6,700 people were on a waiting list to receive the vaccine as of last week.
“If you give me 6,700 vaccines, believe me, we can use them within a week, but I need to get the vaccines,” Ellent said.
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