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North Carolina has wasted 1.7M COVID-19 vaccine doses. Big data hopes to help.

COVID-19 vaccine dose drawn from a vial at WakeMed Health.
WakeMed Health

Since COVID-19 vaccines have been available, more than 1.7 million doses in North Carolina have gone to waste.

About half have been wasted because of leftover doses in an opened vial, and the other half because they reached an expiration date, according to data provided by the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services. Statewide, more than 16 million doses have been administered across the state.

Nationwide, 65 million COVID-19 vaccines have been wasted, according to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Doses must be kept very cold, and the NC Collaboratory —a research and policy organization — has provided 63 freezers across the state with the intent to improve equitable vaccine distribution to underserved communities.

The Collaboratory is working with SAS to optimize supply distribution. "The project monitored the impact of factors including temperature, humidity, vibration during transport, opening and closing, duration in storage and freezer capacity," according to SAS.

Put simply: sensors in the storage freezers work kind of like a smart fridge that alerts you when you're low on eggs.

"Essentially providing intelligent alerting, when the virus spread begins to outpace vaccine supply in a particular region," said Bobby Shkolnikov, principal of SAS's Internet of Things unit. "And then the system can provide recommendations for how to move supply to meet that demand."

Sensors track freezer temperature and capacity.

"So tracking the number of vaccines to determine the space availability in each of the freezers," he said.

Jason deBruyn is the WUNC health reporter, a beat he took in 2020. He has been in the WUNC newsroom since 2016.
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