Most Missouri mass vaccination events last week had unused doses. But waste was rare

Gov. Mike Parson said more mass vaccination teams will be transitioning to serve the urban areas

Syringes of COVID-19 vaccinations are filled during MU Health Care’s vaccination clinic in the Walsworth Family Columns Club at Faurot Field in Columbia, Mo. on Thursday, Feb. 4, 2021.
Syringes of COVID-19 vaccinations are filled during MU Health Care’s vaccination clinic in the Walsworth Family Columns Club at Faurot Field in Columbia on Feb. 4, 2021. (Photo courtesy of MU Health Care)

Out of the 28 mass vaccination events supported by the Missouri National Guard last week, all but five had unused doses remaining at the end of the day, ranging from as few as 18 to nearly 1,500.

Only five events wasted any doses — with 143 of 152 wasted doses occurring at an event last Saturday in Putnam County.

According to data provided by the Department of Public Safety, 47,143 residents were vaccinated across the state’s mass vaccination events for both booster and prime doses between Feb. 21-27.

The mass vaccination events, which were primarily held in rural areas, had drawn outrage last week after multiple clinics had neared the end of the day with hundreds of doses on hand — prompting some health departments to take to social media and encourage anyone to come for fear doses would be wasted.

Meanwhile, residents in the state’s urban centers have been clamoring for vaccine as their names languish on local waitlists for weeks.

Altogether, 7,735 doses were unused across the events and redistributed to other providers or saved for subsequent clinics. Only 152 doses went to waste. The Putnam County event wasted 143 doses and four others ranged from one to three doses wasted each.

Data was gathered by the Missouri National Guard and Missouri State Emergency Management Agency, while numbers on “wastage” was data local health departments reported to the Department of Health and Senior Services Bureau of Immunizations on Wednesday.

On Thursday, Gov. Mike Parson said while wastage will happen occasionally, the 143 doses wasted in Putnam County “should have never happened.”

“I’ve got to own Putnam County,” Parson told reporters. “What happened up there, should have never happened. Just that simple. Shouldn’t have happened. We got to fix it. We got to make sure we’re doing a better job than what we did up there. We never want that situation to happen.”

Parson said more mass vaccination teams will be transitioning to serve the urban areas, with three teams in the St. Louis region and two in the Kansas City region by April 1. 

“Vaccine interest is often highest in the urban populations,” Parson said during a press conference Thursday.

In a news release Monday, Joetta Hunt, the administrator for the Putnam County Health Department, said the wasted doses were in part due to scheduling issues through Vaccine Navigator, the state’s centralized registration system, as well as no shows, dislodged needles and extra vaccine drawn that passed the six-hour time limit it needed to be used by.

“We made every effort we could to utilize this extra vaccine within the appropriate timeline,” Hunt said. “We have learned much from this experience and know where we can improve and we will do better next time.”

The Missouri National Guard does not have data on the number of Putnam County residents who had been vaccinated that day, said Mike O’Connell, a spokesman for DPS.

Days before at an event in Leopold — population 65 — last Wednesday, news spread fast that anyone, regardless of whether they were eligible or not, could come receive a shot in order to prevent wasting any doses. It spurred some St. Louis area residents to drop what they were doing to make the two-hour drive south before the event was scheduled to end at 5 p.m.

After the event was over, rumors swirled that hundreds of doses were thrown away because not enough people could attend the event since it was held so far outside of population centers.

At the time, state officials insisted that was false. The data provided by DPS shows that 889 people were vaccinated at the event, 1,061 were unused and none were wasted.

The unused doses were redistributed to the local public health department in Cape Girardeau and a regional pharmacy “capable of widespread distribution in (the) region,” according to the data.