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Media companies really need to learn how numerators and denominators work, 'wasted' COVID-19 vaccinations edition

A number of news sites are running with the narrative today that CVS and Walgreens have “wasted” what sounds like a problematic number of COVID-19 vaccines:

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Of all the “wasted” doses tracked by the CDC, 70% of them are from CVS and Walgreens:

In total, over 180,000 vaccines were “wasted” which the Daily Beast called due to “poor planning”:

But do these people not understand how numerators and denominators work? According to The Hill, 140,000,000 million doses have been administered:

However, KHN notes that the overall amount of wasted vaccines is minimal when compared to the nearly 190 million that have been delivered and the 148 million that have been administered in the U.S.

182,000 “wasted” doses divided by 148,000,000 doses administered is 0.00122972972, or .12%:

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Oh, but it gets worse:

The expert quoted in The Hill article actually said that this number is “minimal” and we’re talking about 1 dose per vaccine site:

“Despite the inherent challenges, our teams were able to limit waste to approximately one dose per onsite vaccination clinic,” DeAngelis added.

A spokesperson for Walgreens, Kris Lathan, told the outlet, “Our goal has always been ensuring every dose of vaccine is used.”

However, KHN notes that the overall amount of wasted vaccines is minimal when compared to the nearly 190 million that have been delivered and the 148 million that have been administered in the U.S.

And it’s not even clear that we’re using the term “wasted” in the correct way as there are valid reason to throw to dose out that have nothing to do with incompetence:

Kate Fowlie of the CDC told KHN that because CVS and Walgreens were tasked with administering so many doses, “a higher percentage of the overall wastage would not be unexpected, particularly in an early vaccination effort that spanned thousands of locations.”

“Though every effort is made to reduce the volume of wastage in a vaccination program, sometimes it’s necessary to identify doses as ‘waste’ to ensure anyone wanting a vaccine can receive it, as well as to ensure patient safety and vaccine effectiveness,” Fowlie added.

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In other words, the distribution has been an incredible success yet it’s being painted here as failing. And that’s exactly how people are interpreting it:

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