Vaccines are often stored improperly, reducing their effectiveness

By correcting one potential error, health officials in Ventura County, California, accidentally made another – and jeopardized vaccines given to thousands of people.

County health officials, concerned that vaccines were getting too warm while being transported to clinics, changed their protocol in 2017. But a routine audit found that the ice packs they were using might have frozen some of the medicines and reduced their effectiveness.

Officials offered to re-immunize anyone who received a vaccine that was delivered in faulty packaging.

“There’s no way to tell whether or not they were ineffective,” said Jason Arimura, director of pharmacy Director of Pharmacy Services at Ventura County Medical Center. Out of an abundance of caution, he said, “we just notified everyone.”

The number of patients affected: 23,000.

It’s not the only case of vaccines feared to be ineffective reaching patients. In the past 13 months alone, 117 children at an Indian Health Service clinic in Oklahoma City received vaccines against polio, meningococcal disease and the human papillomavirus that were refrigerated improperly.

Similar problems with temperature control prompted a health clinic in Indianapolis to send letters last year offering to revaccinate 1,600 people, according to local news reports.

Now Kentucky officials say potentially ineffective and contaminated vaccines were administered at multiple businesses across Kentucky, Ohio and Indiana.

The federal government sets standards on the storage of vaccines. But not all health care providers are accountable under those guidelines.

The federal Vaccines for Children program, which offers these drugs at no cost to kids from low-income families, requires clinics, doctors and other providers to use state-of-the-art equipment, such as devices that monitor temperature continuously, and undergo annual audits. It also requires providers to report problems to federal authorities.

More than 44,000 doctors participate in the program, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. They provide vaccines to 90 percent of the nation’s children.

But medical facilities outside of the program – including many pharmacies and internists with private practices – have no comparable federal oversight. Protocols for storing vaccines and whether they report cases of patients receiving ineffective drugs are left largely up to their discretion.

The vaccines involved in the Ventura County recall were not part of the Vaccines for Children program.

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