According to data obtained by Kaiser Health News, CVS accounted for nearly half of the wasted vaccine doses, while Walgreens was responsible for 21 per cent of the waste.
CDC data suggests the two pharmacies have wasted more doses than the states, US territories and federal agencies combined.
More than half of the doses tossed out were Pfizer doses, which required ultra-cold refrigeration to store. Nearly 60 per cent of the waste was made up of Pfizer doses.
The revelation that tens of thousands of vaccine doses have been wasted in the US comes at the same time as a new coronavirus wave tears through India, leaving thousands dead, and the country short on oxygen and vaccines.
The reports do not make clear why the private companies were far less efficient at storing the shots than their government counterparts.
A spokesperson for CVS said that “nearly all” of its vaccine waste occurred during the early roll-out period when the companies were working to vaccinate the staff and residents at long-term care facilities, such as nursing homes and assisted living communities.
Some critics have pointed out that those early rollout efforts were under the direction of former President Donald Trump, and suggested that the waste may have been a result of poor planning or lack of institutional support for the pharmacies.
Dr Michael Wasserman, the former president of the California Association of Long Term Care Medicine, told NBC News the pharmacies’ vaccine drives lacked proper preparation.
“To me, this ultimately correlates with just poor planning,” he said. “CVS and Walgreens didn’t have a clue when it came to interacting with nursing homes. Missed opportunities for vaccination in long-term care invariably results in deaths.”
While any waste is unfortunate, particularly when so many people in the world do not have access to a vaccine, the overall number of doses discarded is slim.
Of the 189.5 million doses administered, fewer than 200,000 were wasted.
The CDC tracks waste to help improve the vaccine rollout process and identify potential logjams in the distribution network.
Speaking with NBC News, Dr Bruce Y Lee, a professor of health policy and management at the City University of New York, pointed out that vaccine was is “basically throwing [taxpayer] money down the chute,” since the vaccines have been paid for by the government.
Michael DeAngelis, a spokesman for CVS, said the wasted doses were largely due to “issues with transportation restrictions, limitations on redirecting unused doses, and other factors.”
“Despite the inherent challenges, our teams were able to limit waste to approximately one dose per onsite vaccination clinic,” he said.
A spokeswoman for Walgreens, Kris Lathan, said the pharmacy did its best to reduce potential waste by keeping their on-site vaccines in balance with the number of individuals registered to receive a shot.
“Our goal has always been ensuring every dose of vaccine is used,” she said.