What happens to unused vaccine doses?

Joel Leyden was desperate to get a shot of the COVID-19 vaccine. At the time, Connecticut, where he lives, was not vaccinating those 65 and up, So Leyden, 66, went hunting for unused doses.

"I called a Walgreens in northern Connecticut," he said, explaining he purposely chose a remote location. "Sure enough they said, 'Why don't you give us a call back around 3 p.m.?' They didn't say no."

Leydon drove 45 minutes to that Walgreens location and waited. It worked.

"Rather than it being disposed of or thrown away, I'm vaccinated," said Leyden, who runs VaccineAngel.com, a Facebook page with more than 7,000 members that helps connect others with vaccine appointments and unused doses.

Biden: U.S. will have enough COVID-19 vaccines for all adults by end of May

"These individuals are really important because they're saving vaccine from the trash can," said Dr. Amesh Adalja, a senior scholar at Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. Right now, there's a patchwork approach across the country when it comes to how to handle extra doses of the vaccine, he said.

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"The fact that we're talking about this is just another function of how flawed the rollout has been," Adalja said.

Every vaccine clinic Adalja has spoken to has a "friends and family" list they turn to when there are extra doses.

Pharmacies have their own policies.


"In the event that there are remaining doses at the end of the day that are due to expire, those doses may be used to vaccinate Walgreens team members who are eligible to receive vaccines as part of the phased plans outlined by the CDC and states. If there are excess doses beyond that, Walgreens communicates regularly with the state and local jurisdictions to determine next steps for reallocation." —Walgreens spokesperson


"In the event of unused doses, we draw from our large population of eligible patients and our frontline employees who may need to be vaccinated to ensure the vaccines are used. We empower our pharmacy teams to use their judgment to ensure that no vaccine goes to waste. They draw from populations of eligible patients and frontline employees when they have extra, then empower their pharmacy teams to use their judgment." —CVS spokesperson

NYC Health and Hospitals

New York City Health and Hospitals, the city's public hospital system that runs 20 vaccination sites citywide, has its own protocol, in compliance with CDC guidelines.

"We do have what we call standby lists at each of our facilities, these are people who meet eligibility criteria that live close to the vaccination site," said Andrew Wallach, the chief medical officer for ambulatory care at Health and Hospitals.

Wallach said that while the staff is very careful to only open the vials of vaccine needed, people who call or show up to add their name to a standby list may get a call if extra doses are available. In very rare instances, if there are no eligible people available, city hospitals and clinics may then use the remaining doses to vaccinate any willing adults.

"Our goal is not to waste any dose of vaccine," Wallach said.

One thing that is discouraged: showing up and waiting outside hospitals or clinics hoping for an extra dose. The city government says if you're eligible and can't get an appointment, try to get on a waitlist and then wait to be called.