Following reports of private clinics using household refrigerators instead of purpose-built vaccine refrigerators, health chief Sophia Chan said on Monday the government will initiate random inspections on private clinics, ensuring vaccines are properly stored and handled.

Purpose-built vaccine refrigerators are preferred

The reports came after public hospitals and out-patients clinics of the Hospital Authority (HA) started providing seasonal influenza and pneumococcal vaccinations to eligible persons last week.

Some fear that household refrigerators cannot effectively control the temperature within the optimal range, hence rendering the vaccines ineffective. Since vaccines are sensitive to heat and light, small variance in the temperature might reduce vaccine potency and protective effect.

However, Chan spoke to the media on Monday, emphasising that the Department of Health had issued detailed guidelines to private doctors and other service providers on how to properly store and handle the vaccines.

The guidelines as set out in Section 3.3 of the Hong Kong Reference Framework for Preventive Care for Children in Primary Care Settings - Module on Immunisation took reference from the requirements in Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States. According to the guidelines, purpose-built vaccine refrigerators are the preferred means of storage for vaccines.

“Using domestic refrigerators is not a direct violation but is against city guidelines, which urge the storage of vaccines in specific coolers,” said Director of Health Dr Constance Hon-yee Chan. “The relevant guidelines recommended it is best to use a medical-grade refrigerator, but some countries use domestic freezers for storage.”

Additionally, according to the guidelines, health practitioners should check and record temperatures manually at least twice daily to ensure vaccines are stored under an appropriate temperature range. MIMS



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