CDC: No widespread problem tied to vaccine storage errors

Jun 8, 2012 (CIDRAP News) – Some children covered by the Vaccines for Children (VFC) program may have received less potent vaccines because of improper storage temperatures, but the problem is probably not widespread, the US Centers for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC) said yesterday in response to a report from a federal auditor.

The CDC responded to a report issued this week by the Department of Health and Human Services' Office of the Inspector General (OIG).

Inspectors checked management practices at 45 VFC providers in four states and New York City in 2011. They found that vaccine at 76% of the providers was exposed to improper temperatures for at least 5 cumulative hours over 2 weeks and that 13 of 45 providers had expired vaccine stored with unexpired vaccine.

"Contrary to some news reports, the OIG did not find that 76% of all vaccine was stored improperly," the CDC statement said. Also, the agency said, "The majority of the expired vaccine doses identified in the April-May assessment were seasonal influenza vaccine. It is unlikely that such doses were administered."

The CDC noted that the main problem with improper storage temperatures is that they make vaccines less effective, not less safe, but the agency is not recommending that parents have their children revaccinated.

"The OIG report did not assess vaccine potency or effectiveness," the statement said. "While it is possible that some children have received less potent vaccines due to exposure to improper temperatures, our data do not suggest that this is a common or widespread problem. Our national monitoring indicates vaccines are doing their job at providing protection against disease."

The agency went on to say that most of the diseases targeted by the vaccine program are at record low levels. Recent outbreaks of measles and pertussis are linked to factors such as vaccine refusal and waning immunity over time, and patterns in the outbreaks "suggest that children are receiving potent and effective vaccines."

At the same time, the CDC called the OIG findings important and said it is working with partner agencies to address the problems.

The VFC program provides free vaccines to children whose families don't have health insurance or can't afford the cost. The CDC administers the program, supplying vaccines to states, cities, and other jurisdictions, which distribute them to about 44,000 providers nationwide.

See also:

Jun 7 CDC statement

Jun 6 CIDRAP News story on OIG report

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