Carelessness is unacceptable

Monday, December 10, 2007

Across the country, children suffer unneeded pain and anxiety, their health is threatened and millions of dollars are wasted every year because of faulty refrigeration equipment for vaccines.

In one recent case in Sioux City, more than 1,000 families were notified by letter and telephone that they needed to get their children revaccinated. State officials found that the refrigerator at the clinic that administered the shots repeatedly dropped below freezing over a 17-month period in 2005 and 2006, potentially ruining the vaccines stored there.

Poor refrigeration has been blamed for similar problems elsewhere around the country including:

-- In St. Cloud, Minn., a clinic had to revaccinate 8,600 patients, most of them children.

-- In Lane County, Ore., 500 children and adults had to get another shot.

-- In western Florida, it happened to about 250 kids.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta estimates hundreds of thousands of doses of vaccines against such diseases as flu, diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough, polio, mumps, measles, chicken pox and the cervical cancer virus are thrown out each year because of poor refrigeration at clinics, hospitals and doctors' offices.

In Sioux City and other cases, the spoilage resulted from a combination of factors: The refrigerator malfunctioned or was not set or maintained at the proper temperature -- a problem that can be caused simply by leaving the door open for a while -- and the workers responsible for regularly logging the temperature did not seem to recognize when the readings were off.

The stakes are too high for carelessness to be such a large factor in diminishing the effectiveness of vaccination efforts. More attention needs to be paid to training and equipment maintenance.