Staying Current With Proper Vaccine Storage and Management

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In early 2017, nearly 900 children in Ocean County, New Jersey faced possible revaccination when state health officials discovered that a pediatrician administered mumps, measles, chicken pox and other vaccines that had been improperly stored. The New Jersey example gives a glimpse into an important question among practices and clinics: how best to store vaccines. 

Many vaccines, including those provided for by the Vaccines for Children (VFC) program, are monitored by state officials to help providers manage their supplies and ensure medications are safe and properly stored. A 2012 report from the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) at the Department of Health and Human Services revealed that improper refrigeration of vaccines could lead to practices losing a significant amount of money each year. As a result, the OIG recommended that the CDC continue to promote proper administration, storage and handling of vaccines, as well as educate providers in the VFC program. 

Exposing vaccines to temperatures outside of designated ranges can compromise the integrity of the vaccines and contribute to wasted resources, as demonstrated in the OIG report. There is also a risk that the vaccines are rendered ineffective, as seen in the New Jersey case. The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) recommends that potentially-compromised vaccines not be administered to patients and instead be properly discarded. 

Managing vaccines can be a time-consuming process for clinicians, particularly given their many other responsibilities. Keeping vaccines in safe temperature ranges requires that teams of people follow the cold chain from the manufacturer to the provider, and also continuously monitor and control the temperature. For example, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends that MMR vaccines be kept in freezers below 5 degrees Fahrenheit, while HPV and hepatitis vaccines are kept in ranges of 36 to 46 degrees Fahrenheit.

One solution that practices have deployed is the use of digital thermometers with automatic alerts that constantly monitor vaccine storage equipment. In the case of the New Jersey pediatric practice, the digital thermometers were an immediate and effective solution, acceptable by the courts to help get the practice back on track, according to settlement documents.

For providers, remaining compliant with vaccine storage and management practices takes both commitment to continuing education and use of the latest technology. To stay updated on CDC guidelines for proper vaccine management practices, visit the You Call the Shots continuing education resource page.