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.
Key guideline changes
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 strong 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.
Focus on vaccines in NSW
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.”
Tips to mitigate risk
- Review the National Vaccine Storage Guidelines ‘Strive for 5’ to ensure your practice’s vaccine storage systems comply.
- When you order vaccines from state vaccine centres you may be asked to make a declaration about compliance with specific requirements. It is important to be aware of these requirements.
- Store vaccines in a purpose-built vaccine refrigerator.
- Educate all people in your practice who are responsible for handling vaccines so they understand the importance of effective vaccine management and recording.
- Nominate a staff member to be responsible for vaccine management and a back-up staff member to take responsibility in their absence.
- Ensure policies, procedures and protocols are in place for vaccine management in all facilities within your practice or organisation.
- Perform vaccine storage self-audits at least every 12 months.
- Ensure plans are in place to respond to cold chain breaches and power failures in all facilities within your practice or organisation.
If your practice receives an audit notification, please contact us on 1800 128 268 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org for information or advice.
Other useful resources:
National Vaccine Storage Guidelines ‘Strive for 5’
RACGP Standards for general practices (5th edition)
NSW Health Cold chain breach protocol
NSW Health Vaccine Management & Storage Self-Audit