It’s heartbreaking’: Thousands of unused vaccine doses trashed in South Carolina

LEXINGTON, S.C. — More than 45,000 Covid-19 vaccine doses have been thrown away in South Carolina because they expired, according to the Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC). The department has tracked usage of the Pfizer, Moderna and Janssen (Johnson & Johnson) vaccines at DHEC clinics statewide since the medicine became available.

DHEC says over 11,000 doses will expire on September 30th if they are not used.

“We have to throw a lot away because of lack of demand,” said Dr. Lachin Hatemi, owner of Veritas Health Group in Lexington County. 

Hatemi’s urgent care clinic has thrown away over 200 doses. 

“It’s heartbreaking,” Hatemi said. “Especially when there are other countries begging for those vaccines and we are here throwing them away. It’s, I guess, just the American way — that we waste while the whole world watches.”

Hatemi explained this is an issue that is impacting practices around the Midlands. “They’re throwing away a lot of unused vaccines because of expiration dates,” said Hatemi.

Vaccine expiration dates are based on information from drug makers on how long the shots stay at the right strength, according to the Associated Press. Covid-19 vaccines from Pfizer, Moderna and Janssen (Johnson & Johnson) have a six-month shelf life. If they are not used within that time frame, they have to be thrown away.

While thousands of doses are going to waste, Dr. Jonathan Knoche, with DHEC, says there are people around the world who would “give anything” to get the vaccine.

“There’s people that have taken to medical tourism,” said Knoche. “Essentially, they’re spending thousands of dollars to fly to the U.S. to get these vaccines.”

According to DHEC, unused, nonexpired vaccines can be sent to other states in coordination with the CDC. However, to date, jurisdictions are not allowed to send unused, nonexpired vaccines to other countries. 

Doctors Knoche and Hatemi join other state health officials who are encouraging unvaccinated residents to get the shot. 

DHEC says vaccine supply is not a concern. Anyone who wants to get vaccinated can do so at a number of locations across the state. You can find a DHEC clinic for vaccination or testing by going to the department’s website Vaccinations and testing are free, most locations do not require registration.

NOTE: The department could not provide information on how many vaccines at non-DHEC clinics have been wasted or how many are going to expire. It says providers do not always update their numbers.  

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