In an effort to inoculate all Americans who so desire, centers administering the SARS-CoV-2 mRNA vaccine are appearing across the United States—leading to questions from healthcare providers regarding the proper medical waste disposal of vaccine remnants. Although protocols may vary slightly from state to state, disposal of SARS-CoV-2 mRNA vaccine-related wastes generally follow similar procedures as other vaccine-related wastes:
Remaining Doses of Vaccine
Because the COVID vaccine does not contain any viral material, it is not considered hazardous. Dispose of leftover or compromised vaccines in accordance with state regulation requirements for non-hazardous pharmaceuticals using non-hazardous pharmaceutical waste containers. (These containers are typically white with blue lids.)
Syringes, Needles, and Empty Vaccine Vials
Place these items in an FDA-approved sharps container. One of the most basic tenets of safe waste management is to never discard loose sharps in a biohazardous waste box or in regular trash. Only an FDA-approved container, made from puncture-proof plastic, is adequate to protect against injuries or the spread of infectious waste.
Dispose of all contaminated personal protective equipment (PPE) including gloves, masks, and gowns in biohazardous waste boxes or containers to help avoid the spread of highly contagious viruses such as COVID-19.
Dispose of non-contaminated PPE and items such as alcohol wipes, cotton balls, bandages, and polystyrene (Styrofoam®) in regular trash, unless there are specific instructions from the vaccine manufacturer stating otherwise.
If you are administering the Pfizer vaccine, you must dispose of the trays on which the vials are stored in a biohazardous waste (red) box or container. We do recommend, however, that you check your local and state laws, protocols, and disposal policies before placing vial trays in the biohazardous waste box or container.
Cold Box Shipping and Tracking Materials
The SARS-CoV-2 mRNA vaccine is packaged in “cold boxes” equipped with tracking devices that you need to return to the manufacturer. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions regarding which items need to be returned, and how exactly to do that.
Keep dry ice in its original container and leave it in an open, well-ventilated area to sublimate.
Recycle any cardboard packaging associated with the COVID vaccine that the vaccine manufacturer has not instructed you to return.
Always adhere to the standard medical waste packaging and acceptance protocols. In addition, we advise you to keep in mind that these are general guidelines, and that it is critically important to comply with your local and state laws, guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control, and the vaccine manufacturers’ directions for safe vaccine waste disposal.
If you have questions about how to dispose of remnants of the SAR-CoV-2 mRNA vaccine, we are available to help. Helping to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and other highly contagious viruses is one of our most important responsibilities. You can always rely on Clym’s waste management experts to provide you with the most current information on medical waste management.