FLU Season: Maintaining Vaccine Efficacy At Mass Vaccination Events

Flu season is upon us! According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), seasonal flu activity can begin as early as October and last until as late as May, with peaks typically between December and February.

Health care facilities—as well as many pharmacies, grocery stores, schools and workplaces—often offer free or low cost “mass vaccination” events at the start of flu season.

In early November, I took my family to an off-site flu shot event offered through our healthcare provider. When we got to the front of the line, I noticed that the vaccines were stored in a portable red cooler. It was the same type of cooler we use for barbeque parties and camping trips.

That got me wondering about whether flu shots stored in a camping cooler would actually protect us.  

Vaccines are extremely temperature sensitive. Proper storage and reliable temperature monitoring is critical for maintaining the integrity of the vaccine. CDC guidelines state that vaccines must be stored properly “from the time they are manufactured until they are administered” and warns that “exposure of vaccines to temperatures outside the recommended ranges can decrease their potency and reduce the effectiveness and protection they provide.”  

There’s no doubt that mass vaccination events do a great public service. Indeed, the number of people who get an annual flu shot is greatly increased due to such events. And when more people get vaccinated against the flu, less flu can spread through the community.

So, what’s the best way to store vaccines during off-site events and clinics? Here’s what the CDC recommends:

  • If a properly functioning storage unit is not available, vaccine may be maintained in a properly conditioned insulated cooler.

  • The containers should remain closed as much as possible.

  • Only the amount of vaccine needed at one time should be removed for preparation and administration.

  • A calibrated thermometer (preferably with a biosafe glycol-encased thermometer probe) should be placed as close as possible to the vaccines within the container.

  • At a minimum, temperature readings in the insulated cooler should be read and recorded prior to leaving the provider’s main office, upon arrival at the vaccine administration clinic location, every hour during the vaccine administration clinic session, upon completion of the vaccine administration clinic session, and after return to the main office. Checking and recording the temperature in storage containers ensures that if temperatures are increasing or decreasing over time, providers can intervene before the vaccine is exposed and potentially wasted.

For the 2015-2016 flu season, manufacturers have projected they will provide between 171 to 179 million doses of vaccine for the U.S. market. Have you had yours?

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