Victoria sees spike in vaccine cold chain violations

The way some vaccines are stored and handled has become a very costly immunization problem for one Australian state.

Victorian health authorities said there has been a spike in reports of vaccine mishandling, resulting in “costly” losses.

There were 110 cold chain violations in the first quarter of 2022, including 11 preventable violations, according to the state health department.

Cold chain disorders are when vaccines are exposed to light or temperatures outside of the range recommended by manufacturers.

Many vaccines are damaged or destroyed at temperatures outside these limits.

In its July newsletter, the Victorian Immunization Department noted an increase in reports of preventable cold chain disorders.

“The immunization department has received a surge in reports of preventable cold chain violations, resulting in the loss of an expensive vaccine,” the report said.

Common causes were that the vaccine refrigerator door was left open, the refrigerator was unplugged, and the vaccine was not stored in the refrigerator.

A spokeswoman for the Victorian Department of Health said she sent a reminder to immunization providers after 11 preventable cold chain violations were reported to the department in April.

Most of the violations were related to primary health care/general practitioners, who are the largest providers of immunization in Victoria.

The department was unable to name the cost of violations.

“Cold chain disruptions are linked to the National Immunization Program’s vaccine stocks and Victoria cannot cover the cost of tainted vaccines,” a spokeswoman said.

“There are strict requirements for cold chain maintenance and when a breach is reported, we work closely with the supplier to ensure that all standards are met, including staff retraining where necessary.”

The cold chain is a system for transporting and storing vaccines within a safe temperature range of two to eight degrees Celsius.

A violation occurs when the storage temperature is outside the recommended range. The optimum storage temperature for vaccines is five degrees Celsius.

The cold chain begins when a vaccine is manufactured, continues to the state or territory vaccine distribution center and immunization provider, and ends when the vaccine is introduced.

Immunization providers involved in cold chain violations may need to provide additional evidence to ensure they comply with national vaccine storage regulations, a department spokesman said.

In extreme cases, the supply of the vaccine may be suspended until the immunization provider shows that they are in compliance.

Originally published as Victoria reports surge in vaccine cold chain violations