ABC News Story: Are Doctors Improperly Storing Vaccines?

If you have children who are receiving vaccines to prevent illnesses, a recent story on ABC’s Good Morning America should give you cause for concern.  The story references a study by the U.S. Department of  Health and Human Services regarding the Vaccines for Children (VFC) program.

The story said:

Although the majority of storage temperatures we independently measured during a 2 week period were within the required ranges, VFC vaccines stored by 76 percent of the 45 selected providers were exposed to inappropriate temperatures for at least 5 cumulative hours during that period. Exposure to inappropriate temperatures can reduce vaccine potency and efficacy, increasing the risk that children are not provided with maximum protection against preventable diseases. Thirteen providers stored expired vaccines together with nonexpired vaccines, increasing the risk of mistakenly administering the expired vaccine. Finally, the selected providers generally did not meet vaccine management requirements or maintain required documentation.

According to the story, the investigation found that the 76 percent of the providers referenced in the study stored the vaccines at temperatures that were either too hot or too cold. They also found that 13 providers stored expired vaccines along with nonexpired vaccines. In addition, they said they found that none of the providers properly managed the vaccines according to VFC program requirements.

The story continues by saying “As a result, the 20,252 VFC vaccine doses that we [HHS] observed during site visits may not provide children with maximum protection against preventable diseases and may be vulnerable to fraud, waste and abuse,” according to the report. “These doses were worth approximately $800,000.”

Temperature Monitoring is Critical

The story references Dr. William Schaffner, chair of preventive medicine at Vanderbilt University Medical Center who said that “The temperature [of vaccines] has to be monitored throughout the entire time, from the time it leaves the manufacturer to the time it spends in transit to the time it’s delivered to the clinic and it’s used in the clinic. We want every dose given to every child to provide the optimum protection as it’s intended.”

Dwayne Grant, the regional inspector general for the Office of Inspector General in Atlanta commented that “We want them [The Centers for Disease Control] to work with the grantees and providers to make sure that they’re storing vaccines properly, then put in better inventory control mechanisms so there’s less inventory on hand so that creates less chances that vaccines can expire.”

This particular report was specifically related to vaccines offered under the VFC program, doctors say the government’s investigation is an important reminder to all clinicians about the need to properly and carefully store all vaccines.

“We have vaccines delivered probably every week, and vaccines come in these large Styrofoam containers, and that is to keep them cold or frozen depending on the particular vaccine,” said Dr. Promise Ahlstrom, a pediatrician.

As a parent or patient, how do you know if the vaccine you”re receiving is still effective?  You can’t…you have to trust that your health care provider is taking proper care in refrigeration, storage and handling of vaccines.  The best bet today, if you’re concerned, is to speak with your physician about the vaccines and how they’ve been stored and manage in the office or at a clinic.

Ahlstrom, the pediatrician, also said parents shouldn’t worry too much about it, but said if they are worried, they should ask questions. “I think that it is probably good for them to address it with their doctors so that they can feel that their mind is put at rest,” Ahlstrom said.

The increase in the number and usage of temperature sensitive pharmaceutical products may require new methods for monitoring and managing the transportation and storage of these items.  We think RFID solutions can help by making it easier to identify potential alarm conditions before they occur and provide doctors and patients with documented proof of the quality and efficacy of the vaccines that they’re dispensing.  You can learn more about this by reading our white paper.

Kevin Payne

Senior Director of Marketing

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