GPs and practices are reminded of their vaccine care obligations in the wake of updated national vaccine storage guidelines and a recent NSW Health audit. Both highlight the importance of correct vaccine storage.
The National Vaccine Storage Guidelines ‘Strive for 5’ (3rd edition) were updated on 28 June 2019. These guidelines provide information about correct vaccine storage and handling, and emphasise this is “an important factor in preventing and eradicating many common vaccine-preventable diseases”. The guidelines include some important changes as well as practical information about cold chain management including managing cold chain breaches. One significant change is a statement that “purpose-built vaccine refrigerators are the only suitable option for vaccine storage”. There is also a h4 emphasis on the importance of monitoring and recording of refrigeration temperatures, advice for mobile and outreach clinics, and resources such as checklists, charts, posters and stickers.
NSW Health has recently been conducting an audit which found a number of GP practices did not have adequate systems and controls in place for storing vaccines, raising concerns that some patients may not be adequately protected. Efforts are being made, by NSW Health and GPs themselves, to contact potentially affected patients to advise them to see a doctor about re-vaccination.
NSW Health reports it is working with the RACGP, AMA, Medical Council of NSW and Primary Health Networks to assist in reminding GPs of their vaccine care obligations. The audit findings have also led NSW Health to tighten vaccine storage rules.
Dr Kerry Chant, NSW Health Chief Medical Officer, recently wrote to all NSW GPs, reminding them of the importance of complying with the National Vaccine Storage Guidelines ‘Strive for 5’. She advised of updated compliance requirements for ordering vaccines from the NSW State Vaccine Centre. For vaccines ordered from this centre the current requirements include notifying the Australian Immunisation Register about each administered vaccine dose, and complying with the cold chain recommendations in the national vaccine storage guidelines. She highlighted requirements for twice daily fridge temperature checking, thermometer reset and recording, continuous electronic data logging and monitoring, Public Health Unit notification in the event of cold chain storage breaches and maintenance of fridge temperatures between 2°C and 8°C. Dr Chant also stated that “providers that have a domestic or bar fridge should make arrangements to purchase a purpose-built vaccine refrigerator to continue to receive government-funded vaccines”.
A new NSW rule taking effect from 31 July 2019 requires having at least one staff member who has successfully completed the NSW Health Vaccine Storage and Cold Chain Management online learning module, with a certificate of completion kept on file. NSW Health has advised it will be conducting random audits for practice compliance.
In a separate statement, the Medical Council of NSW reported receiving a number of complaints in the last few months about suboptimal vaccine storage and administration of out-of-date vaccines. The statement on their website notes “this is a significant public health risk and resulted in conditions being placed on these doctors’ registrations including that they can no longer receive government-funded vaccines.”