“Ineffective Vaccines Given at Conroe Clinic for Months, Health Officials Say.”
Headlines like this are increasingly more common than one would think. This past fall, a clinic in San Mateo, California had to send letters to the parents of more than 1,500 pediatric patients requesting re-vaccination because of a bad refrigerator. In July 2015, a New Jersey Clinic lost an estimated $20,000 worth of vaccines because a refrigeration unit failed. And just this month, a New Hampshire hospital discovered its vaccines were stored at inconsistent temperature, requiring the revaccination of more than 800 children.
The article continues, “Five weeks ago, the Montgomery County Hospital District issued a public notice -- that vaccinations given between March and October included vaccines that hadn't been stored at the recommended temperature.”
The vaccines were rendered ineffective because a faulty refrigerator caused them to fall out of a safe temperature range. A state audit revealed the refrigerator dipped below 34 degrees, and the vaccine manufacturer couldn't guarantee the product would still be effective given the circumstances.
The article notes that of the 520 people who were vaccinated, fewer than half have come back to get re-vaccinated. Most of them are children. It’s both amazing and horrifying to see articles of this nature because the technology exists to eliminate these risky, and very costly, public health issues from happening. According to a 2010 CDC Vaccines for Children study, 76 percent of vaccines stored by 45 selected providers were exposed to inappropriate temperatures for at least 5 cumulative hours during a 2-week period. Relying on mercury à la Gabriel Fahrenheit circa 1724 is no longer a solution for medical professionals administering temperature-sensitive medications.
Because of one faulty refrigerator – which officials report has since been replaced - and lack of proper monitoring by the staff at the Conroe Clinic, Montgomery County Texas has a potentially serious public health issue developing in their community. The vaccines included those for hepatitis A and B, whopping cough, polio, pneumonia, flu, and diphtheria, among others. These are all treatable but life-threatening diseases when left untreated with vulnerable patients including children, the elderly, and the immune-compromised.
What can be done to prevent this from happening in the future at other health clinics? There are two courses of action – same message, different audiences – that will create the biggest impact:
Insist that legislators update language around vaccine monitoring, holding health professionals to a higher standard. Clipboard-style reporting is too inconsistent to be the industry standard. According to a CDC Vaccine Adverse Error Reporting System (VAERS) Report, there were 20,585 vaccination error reports from 2000 – 2013. Of those more than 20,000 reports, 23% were categorized as storage/dispensing errors. Remote temperature monitoring is not only extremely accurate (within .5°C of accuracy), it has the ability to immediately alert professionals when their vaccinations are on the cusp of being compromised before they’re rendered completely ineffective. This saves time, money, and lives in the long run.
Actively work with health clinics, hospitals, and vaccine distribution sites to update their own standards for vaccination monitoring, and encourage them to invest in automated technology to exceed current expectations and change the status quo. Human error happens – it’s expected – but it’s important to understand that some errors impact on a greater scale than others. Vaccine monitoring skews towards the high end of that scale.
The technology exists and Temperature@lert offers a solution that’s incredibly easy to deploy for healthcare centers large and small. It’s 2016 and it’s time healthcare professionals and institutions update their practices and standards to match the technological advances that have been developed with public health in mind. We have to be better to protect our children and communities.