News Release

ISMP Alerts Healthcare Practitioners about Errors with New COVID-19 Vaccines

Since mid-December 2020, the Institute for Safe Medication Practices (ISMP) has received numerous reports of errors or hazards with the administration of COVID-19 vaccines as one of the most ambitious immunization campaigns in history has gotten underway. Reporting to the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS) is mandatory for vaccines available under an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA). These reports were submitted to the ISMP National Vaccine Error Reporting Program (ISMP VERP) voluntarily. The free featured article in the January 14, 2021 ISMP Medication Safety Alert!® newsletter discusses possible causes and contributing factors and outlines lessons learned for healthcare organizations administering vaccines.

Main categories of errors being reported so far with vaccines under EUAs include:

  • Dilution Errors. Pfizer-BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine must be diluted with preservative-free sodium chloride injection. Multiple errors have occurred involving the addition of too little diluent, which results in administration of too much vaccine and potentially stronger adverse effects if they occur.

  • Mix-Ups with Look-Alike Products. Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine and the new Regeneron monoclonal antibody, casirivimab, have been confused, likely due to labeling issues. Two versions of vial and carton labels for the Regeneron antibody exist, and neither version includes the name of the specific antibody, casirivimab, or has a functioning barcode.  

  • Waste of Vaccine Doses. ISMP has received reports that some of the syringes being shipped as part of the federal COVID-19 response are not efficient enough to extract a sixth dose from the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine vials or an eleventh dose from the Moderna vaccine. Since both vaccines must be used within six hours at room temperature, some facilities are scrambling to at the end of the day to use doses or have to discard them.

Other reported errors included a misspelling in an email address that resulted in the patient not receiving information on appointment to receive a second vaccine dose, vaccination of underage patients, and serious but not life-threatening allergic responses.

SAFE PRACTICE RECOMMENDATIONS
These voluntary reports are likely the tip of the iceberg, given the massive scope of the global COVID-19 vaccination campaign. Following are actions that healthcare organizations can take to help reduce risk.

  • Safely select vaccination sites. Allow enough space to assess patients prior to vaccination, observe them afterwards, and treat any who experience a reaction, while maintaining social distancing and other precautions.

  • Verify competency of vaccinators. Healthcare workers involved in vaccination campaigns should be educated regarding vaccine storage, preparation, administration, and common types of errors that can occur. Provide vaccinators with an up-to-date Fact Sheet for the vaccines being administered and verify their key competencies (full list is provided in newsletter article).

  • Dispense pharmacy-prepared syringes. If feasible within the timeframe for vaccine stability at room temperature, have the pharmacy confirm the number of verified appointments and dispense prefilled, labeled syringes for daily vaccination clinics. Check that the needle cap is tight on each syringe before dispensing.

  • Use an independent double-check. When administering the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, require an independent double-check of the dilution process (if staffing permits).

  • Maximize doses withdrawn from vials. Whenever possible, use low dead-volume syringes/needles to withdraw as many doses as possible of the COVID-19 vaccine from each vial to reduce waste.

  • Identify/differentiate monoclonal antibodies. If Regeneron monoclonal antibodies are received in investigational drug packaging without the product name on the outer carton or vial, establish a process to be implemented immediately upon receipt to identify and differentiate from other medications, including the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine.

  • Separate vaccine storage. To avoid mix-ups, do not store the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines together in the refrigerator while or after thawing (use separate shelves).

  • Plan for leftover vaccine. Establish a standard process such as a list of readily available alternative recipients for dealing with doses remaining in vaccine vials or pharmacy-prepared syringes at the end of a vaccination clinic (still must be within six hours of storage at room temperature).

  • Be prepared for allergic reactions. At all vaccination sites, make sure emergency equipment and medications are immediately available. Monitor patients for at least 15 minutes for signs of adverse reaction, and at least 30 minutes if there is a history of allergic reaction to a vaccine or injectable therapy or history of anaphylaxis. Avoid vaccinating patients with a known reaction to ingredients such as polyethylene glycol, or with a reaction of any severity to polysorbate due to cross-reactivity to polyethylene glycol.

  • Verify second dose scheduling. Establish a system for setting up/confirming appointments for second dose administration, and if relying on email, check on non-responses via phone calls or other rapid communication methods. Consider establishing a “hotline” for questions and providing the number to patients at the time of their first dose.

  • Report vaccine errors and adverse reactions. Report all COVID-19 vaccine errors and adverse reactions to the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS) at https://vaers.hhs.gov, which is mandatory for healthcare providers. ISMP also asks providers to report vaccine errors to the ISMP National Vaccine Errors Reporting Program (ISMP VERP) at https://ismp.org/report-medication-error.

 

For a copy of the full ISMP newsletter article, visit:  Learning from Errors with the New COVID-19 Vaccines | Institute for Safe Medication Practices (ismp.org)

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Since COVID-19 vaccines were granted emergency use authorization, The Institute for Safe Medication Practices (ISMP) has received reports of errors related to storage, preparation, and administration. Because COVID-19 vaccine errors can result in reduced effectiveness, and other safety implications