Calls For Booster Shots Ramp Up as States Toss Millions of COVID Vaccines

The World Health Organization (WHO) said Tuesday that it strongly supports "broad and urgent access" to COVID-19 booster shots, while in the U.S., states are tossing out excess vaccines.

In a statement released on Tuesday, WHO pushed for both initial vaccines and booster shots after insisting last year that booster shots were unnecessary for wealthier countries and requesting that those countries donate their vaccines to poor countries instead.

The push for more vaccines was "particularly for groups at risk of developing severe disease," the statement read. "The near- and medium-term supply of the available vaccines has increased substantially, however, vaccine equity remains an important challenge and all efforts to address such inequities are strongly encouraged."

Indeed, vaccine demand has fallen in the U.S. as national COVID rates have been on the decline in recent weeks following the January surge from the Omicron variant.

Our World in Data showed last week that the number of overall vaccines administered per day has reached their lowest rates since the vaccines were first introduced in America, which is a severe change from the peak vaccination rate almost a year ago when nearly two million people were trying to receive their first vaccinations a day.

Now, as vaccination rates slow down and mandate protocols are being dropped, states are having to throw away millions of COVID-19 vaccines, including ones that expired or couldn't be used because of temperature issues or broken vials.

The Associated Press reported that nearly 1.5 million doses in Michigan, 1.45 million in North Carolina, 1 million in Illinois and almost 725,000 doses in Washington had to be tossed.

Public health departments have been attempting to shuffle vaccine doses from the most vaccinated states to the least vaccinated ones in the hopes that they can still be used elsewhere.

"It is necessary to keep vials of vaccine in as many locations as possible in order to ensure the vaccine is widely accessible for anyone who wants to get it," Claire Hannan, the executive director of the Association of Immunization Managers, told Newsweek. "And because there are 6 or more doses in a vial that must be used within 12 hours of puncturing the vial, it is inevitable that not all doses will be used."

Hannon added, "It is more important to get one person vaccinated and risk wasting 5 doses, than turning that person away because you can't use all 6 doses in 24 hours and you don't want to waste any."

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said last week that the national rate of wasted doses is about 9.5 percent of the more than 687 million doses that have been delivered across the country as of late February, which equates to about 65 million doses wasted.

Experts are trying to find as many ways to minimize vaccine waste as possible, as one clinic, UNC Health, is developing first-in, first-out systems to give clinics the vaccine doses expiring soonest, spokeswoman Carleigh Gabryel told CBS 17.

"Pivoting to what's happening now, you have much more production and distribution to low-income countries," Dr. Joseph Bresee told the AP, who directs the COVID-19 Vaccine Implementation Program at the Task Force for Global Health in Decatur, Georgia. He said that stocks in the U.S., as well as Germany and Japan, are not being distributed as fast as they are being produced.

Katie Greene, an assistant research director at the Duke-Margolis Center for Health Policy, told the AP that "Given what we've seen in terms of the number of people still unvaccinated, I do think finding any way to get the shot in arms, even at the expense of potential wastage, is still important."

Newsweek reached out to the Association of Immunization Managers for further comment.

Arrival And Administration Of First Batches Of
The World Health Organization stated their support for booster shots as states across the U.S. are finding they have a surplus of vaccines going to waste. This photo shows the preparation of the Novavax vaccine, the first protein-based vaccine against COVID-19 on March 01, 2022, in Bologna, Italy. Michele Lapini/Getty Images