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Vaccine Storage and Handling Guidelines: Everything You Should Know

  • by Kevin Driggers
  • Mar 2, 2020, 13:57 PM

Proper vaccine storage and handling are essential to your practice. With this article, we'll cover all the common questions we get asked about vaccine storage. From proper temperatures for specific vaccines and medicines to appropriate disposal of vaccines that have been compromised, we'll cover everything you need to know. 

According to the US Center for Disease Control (CDC), "Vaccine quality is the shared responsibility of everyone, from the time vaccine is manufactured until it is administered." In the industry, we call this the Cold Chain. Your correct cold storage and handling practices play a crucial role in protecting individuals, and entire communities, from vaccine-preventable diseases.

American Biotech Supply (ABS) is here to help with your vaccine storage needs. As always, don't hesitate to contact us directly if you have a question beyond the scope of this blog

Vaccine Storage & Vaccine Handling: Our Most Frequently Asked Questions

Are vaccine temperature ranges important? What happens when vaccines get too warm or too cold?

Most modern vaccines are temperature sensitive and sensitive to UV light. Poor handling and incorrect storage will likely decrease the effectiveness of any vaccine, to the point they may be rendered completely useless.

  • Extreme temperature changes, either hot or cold, are also harmful to vaccines.

  • "Killed vaccines," those which contain killed antigens, also contain an adjuvant to enhance your patients' immune responses.

  • When vaccines get too cold, it results in adverse changes to the adjuvant and the antigens, resulting in both a less effective vaccine and reduced immune response in the patient. 

As you see, correct handling and storage of every vaccine matters.

Will an adversely affected vaccine injure my patient?

No, your patient probably won't become ill or injured from an adversely affected dose. A more significant concern is that your patients won't be protected from the disease you're vaccinating against. Let's consider the common DTaP vaccine for instance, commonly called among our patients "a tetanus shot."

  • DTaP is designed to protect patients from Diphtheria (D), Tetanus (T) and Pertussis (aP). 

  • It's designed for children age seven and younger.

  • DTaP vaccinations need to be carefully stored between 2 degrees and 8 degrees C / 36 to 46 degrees F. 

As you're undoubtedly aware, tetanus (also called lockjaw) is a terribly painful disease caused by a toxin produced by bacteria. It can be deadly. It often causes a person's neck and jaw muscles to lock painfully, making it hard to open the mouth, breathe easily or swallow. Tetanus bacteria are everywhere, from the bottoms of our shoes to the soil in the garden. 

So, while an ineffective TDaP vaccine wouldn't directly harm our youngest patients, their risk of exposure is quite high. It would be tragic to be held responsible for the hospitalization, or even death, of young patients. 

Beyond the personal guilt we would experience over such a tragedy, realize that situations like these are precisely the sort of problems that lead to medical malpractice suits. All the more reason to ensure your staff is well trained in proper vaccination storage and handling!

This segues nicely into our next commonly discussed topic: vaccine temperature ranges.

What is the best vaccine storage temperature range?

The CDC recommends your vaccination storage refrigerators should be kept at 40 degrees F. ABS is proud to manufacture and distribute quality vaccine refrigerators you can trust.

What is the best temperature to store other refrigerated medications?

Most medicines that need refrigeration should be kept at that same 40 degrees F. However, every medication is unique, and you'll find their storage recommendations on the manufacturer's packaging. 

PBAHealth.com, a resource for pharmacists, tells us more about the value of every medication's original packaging: 

  • Refrigerated medicines [and vaccines] should always be stored in their original packaging.

  • This protects them from UV light and keeps them visually distinct to avoid mix-ups.

  • For medications with similar names or packaging (like insulins and vaccines), use shelf tags, or store them in different locations within the refrigerator.

  • Don't overcrowd bottles. Leave room between each container so cold air can circulate well. 

Hopefully these tips will help your staff stay on top of proper vaccine and medication storage. However, mistakes do happen. It wouldn't be the first time a vaccine was left out on the counter, or a medication label became illegible. 

Is there anything else I should know about vaccine storage and management?

All vaccine manufacturers suggest that immediate use, once opened, is the best way to ensure vaccine potency.

  • If a vaccine isn't used within its expiration date, dispose of it.  

  • Encourage your employees to be mindful of expiration dates. 

What should I do with compromised vaccines or medications?

Unused live vaccines, those with living pathogens, present a significant risk to your organization and your community. That's why every laboratory, hospital and private practice must obey federal and state hazardous waste disposal regulations.

  • Cope with compromised vials or unused live vaccines by packing them in lab packs, and contracting with an outside hazardous waste transport contractor for an occasional pickup.

  • Never administer a compromised vaccine to a patient!

As the CDC explains, it's better not to vaccinate, then to vaccinate with a compromised dose. We've already covered the health risks associated with that sort of error, and the potential for litigation. It's also essential to view these instances from our patients' points of view.

  • If we visited our doctor for a tetanus shot, for instance, and then contracted tetanus, we'd lose faith in that doctor and perhaps with the health care system as a whole. In our modern era of social media posts and "likes" this sort of situation could "go viral" and spiral out of control.

The bottom line is this: compromised vaccines are bad for public relations. 

What doesn't belong in the pharmacy refrigerator?

Your lunch! Obviously you know this, but we wanted to lighten the spirit of this article before bringing it to a close. We all cherish those employees who have a bit of a class clown personality. They lighten our spirits in the lab and make long shifts go by faster. It's important to draw the line at your refrigerators, however. Train these fun-loving professionals in the proper storage and handling of vaccines for everyone's safety.

We hope you've enjoyed our blog on vaccination storage and handling topics. We sure enjoyed writing it! Read more frequently asked questions on our website, and feel free to contact ABS with any questions you have about proper vaccine handling and storage.

 

Related Reading & Resources:

Zoetisus.com: Storage and Handling: Key to Effective Vaccination Program

Historyofvaccines.org: Vaccine Side Effects and Adverse Events

Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment: Disposal of Waste / Outdated Vaccine

Ohio EPA: The Disposal of Hazardous Pharmaceutical Waste FAQs

 

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