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Coronavirus (COVID-19) Knowledge Center

Coronavirus (COVID-19): Immunization Readiness and Waste Disposal Best Practices

Covid-19 Vaccination Waste Disposal Best Practices

Last updated 12/22/2020

With COVID-19 vaccines deploying throughout the United States, healthcare facilities are preparing for an influx of both patients and immunization waste. Stericycle’s Regulatory and Safety teams have been closely monitoring vaccine development and – in particular – the plans to distribute and administer immunization. Our cross-functional COVID-19 Immunization Task Force has scaled up our operations, building a state-level forecast to better understand the vaccine rollout across distribution channels and modeling various scenarios to prepare our operations.

If you would like more information on how Stericycle can support your vaccination plans, please contact your Stericycle account manager or call 847-943-6069.

Immunization Readiness

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)  is providing vaccination resources for planning, allocation, distribution, administration, storage and handling, patient education and more. Stericycle continually monitors updates from the CDC and we encourage our customers to do the same.

Operation Warp Speed is a partnership among components of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Department of Defense to help develop, make, and distribute millions of vaccine doses for COVID-19 as quickly as possible. 

Administration of the vaccines is rolling out in phases. The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) of the CDC advises prioritizing the following groups for first phase of vaccine administrations:

  • Healthcare personnel
  • Essential workers
  • People with underlying conditions
  • People aged 65 and above

It is important to note that these are guidelines and may vary at a state level.

Additionally, the vaccines have strict temperature storage requirements to maintain integrity, and most must be taken in multiple doses. This chart helps summarize the different vaccines and showcase some of their key characteristics. It is important to consider the impact that this may have on vaccination programs and disposal requirements when developing a vaccine administration plan. For instance, fostering compliance with a two-dose vaccine regimen may require enhanced scheduling and communication strategies.

Waste Management

Similarly, managing the influx of sharps waste resulting from the distribution of these vaccines requires a waste management plan. Plans for different scenarios require consideration of unique needs. Vaccinations can occur at hospitals – both on-site and off-site (tents, pop-ups, annex building and other temporary locations) – as well as retail pharmacies, clinics and long-term care facilities. While considerations are similar for these situations, they are key for developing your vaccination plan.

It’s necessary to evaluate where the administration will happen, where to source  sharps containers, where they should be located, how many vaccinations and patients are expected, and whether there are enough sharps containers to accommodate the waste generated. For on-site vaccination administration within your facility, Stericycle recommends increasing inventory of reusable sharps containers to accommodate increased volume of waste and not displace containers from other patient care areas.  For off-site administration, purchase additional disposable sharps containers to manage waste at the location.

Manufacturers also recommend that fully discharged vaccine vials are discarded in sharps containers, which should be taken into account when planning container quantity. Vial trays should also be discarded as medical waste. 

Finally, dry ice is often used to maintain the strict temperature requirements for storing and shipping the vaccines. While dry ice is not medical waste, it should be handled and disposed of by following guidance found here.

Click here to learn more about our safe, convenient and complaint solutions tailored to manage the surge in sharps and RMW waste from COVID-19 vaccinations.


Best Practices and Solutions: