RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — More than a quarter of a million doses of COVID-19 vaccine in North Carolina have gone to waste since December, state data show.

The 254,526 wasted doses account for just over 3 percent of the nearly 8 million doses of vaccine North Carolina providers have received from the federal government.

The monthly totals have steadily grown, from fewer than 1,400 wasted doses in February to more than 112,000 in July, according to the most recent wastage report from the Department of Health and Human Services.

But there’s a simple explanation, said Jordan DeAngelis, the COVID-19 vaccine coordinator for the Duke University Health System: Each vial of vaccine contains between five and 10 doses, and the number of people getting those shots recently doesn’t always match those figures, resulting in leftovers.

Earlier during the vaccine rollout, when doses were more scarce and demand was higher, providers would advertise their excess doses instead of tossing them out. 

Recent concerns about the Delta variant have bumped demand out of a multi-month lull, but not to the point yet where supply is an issue.

“It is more important to get that person protected right now than it is to try to save those extra doses,” DeAngelis said.

The numbers back that up: 38 percent — the largest share — of those wasted doses were because not every dose in an opened vial was used. Only about 20 percent of doses expired, and another 11 percent was wasted because doses were drawn into a syringe but not administered.

“I do expect that we will see more waste because of that,” DeAngelis said.

There is a cost involved: Contracts show the federal government paid about $20 for each dose of the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines and $10 for each one from Johnson & Johnson. The DHHS numbers do not break down how many doses of each product were discarded.

North Carolina’s numbers are mostly in line with other states: Ohio, which has a similar population and vaccination rate, recently reported about 230,000 wasted doses.

And the waste rate in North Carolina is below the 5 percent rate the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention expected.

“At the end of the day, it’s all about getting those doses, administering those doses to patients and protecting our community,” DeAngelis said. “And if that means we waste part of a vial, then so be it.”

CBS 17’s Joedy McCreary has been tracking COVID-19 figures since March 2020, compiling data from federal, state, and local sources to deliver a clear snapshot of what the coronavirus situation looks like now and what it could look like in the future.