How To Avoid Expired Vaccines

Expired vaccines are a bummer. Wasted vaccines equal wasted dollars. And dollars that don't need to be wasted. Some fridges and freezers can store thousands of dollars worth of vaccines. When those vaccines go to waste, the hospital is left footing the bill. Even if your hospital or medical clinic is using VFC (Vaccine for Children) vaccines, the bill could end up in your hands. And vaccines are not only are a waste of money, but a waste of hospital and public resources, that could have been used more efficiently in another area, to prevent diseases somewhere else.

Documentation Is Key.

Opening up your vaccine fridge one morning and finding you have vials of expired vaccines is not an enjoyable experience. It means a lot of paperwork for you and your hospital or clinic: especially if those are VFC vaccines. The process includes removing the expired or damaged stock out of the fridge, labeling it
as expired, separating it completely from the current stock that is within usable dates, trying to figure out if any expired vaccines were administered (a headache that includes re-administering every vaccine given), and contacting your immunization program or vaccine manufacturer to figure out what to do next. Yikes.

Yup, if you are a vaccine provider, you really want to avoid all of that work, lost money, and all those at-risk patients. How do you do that?

Rotate Stock.

Your grocery store does it, and so should you! By moving the oldest vaccines in your vaccine fridge or freezer to the "front" of your supply, you can better ensure that the oldest vaccines get used first, before they are set to expire. The CDC recommends to unpack all vaccines immediately, and place them within your vaccine stock in a last in-last-used system. Also, the CDC recommends having one person (chosen by the vaccine coordinator) check the placement and arrangement of vaccines in your freezer and/or refrigerator weekly, to ensure they are placed in the appropriate order according to their expiration dates.

Read Labels.

You should know and understand the difference between ”use by,” ”use through,” and "expires on."  Vaccines will sometimes only be marked with an expiration month and year. Thus, that vaccine can be used in that entire month, but the second the clock ticks midnight and the calendar flips over, it is now expired. Also, because different manufacturers print differently on vials, syringes, and packages, you want to make sure you know the difference in what you are looking at, whether it is a vaccine or a diluent.

Document Inventory.

As always, documentation is key. The CDC recommends recording the following quantity information when vaccine inventory is taken: received, administered, wasted, spoiled, expired, and transferred vaccines. Also, you should have documentation that is constantly updated to include information on the vaccines that your clinic or hospital is currently out of, which vaccines should be used first, and what the next ordering round will look
like. This doesn’t even account for stock records, which must be much more detailed.

Order Small, Order Smart.

You can always order more. While it may make sense to order large batches of vaccines at a time, it drastically increases the likelihood of an expired vaccine, for obvious reasons. Ideally, your hospital or clinic’s vaccine coordinator is well-versed in vaccine expiration dates and vaccine distribution numbers, so ordering is a standardized process that limits the risk for expired vaccines. One way to help establish this process is through tally sheets. Each time a vaccine moves out of the fridge, it should be noted. These tally sheets help keep inventory and stock records updated, and also allow vaccine coordinators to see trends in vaccine distribution over time, for more efficient ordering.