Physician failings raise doubts about the potency of U.K. vaccines

Charities frequently bemoan the difficulty in ensuring vaccines reach patients in developing countries without losing any of their potency. In developed nations, logistics should make the task easy, yet inspections of medical practitioners in the United Kingdom suggest some people receive ineffective vaccines.

The suspicion that some ineffective vaccines are administered in the U.K. stems from inspection reports written by the independent health services regulator. Having inspected 1,000 healthcare practices since April, the Care Quality Commission (CQC) highlighted vaccines as a problem area for some sites. "We found… some vaccines stored in the fridge that were 6 months out of date," CQC wrote in its report on conditions at a practice near Manchester. A lack of temperature checks on other fridges was also noted.

While administering an out-of-date or subpotent vaccine is unlikely to directly harm a patient, there is a risk the vaccine will fail to provide the expected protection. National Health Service (NHS) chief inspector of family doctor services Steve Field said: "When something goes wrong in general practice, it has the potential to affect thousands of local people. For example, poor storage of vaccines can lead to health problems years into the future and have a huge impact on the population as a whole."

CQC is tightening oversight of healthcare practices in an attempt to raise standards. Inspectors will now visit 25% of healthcare practices in each clinical commissioning group--the 211 regional bodies that deliver NHS services in England--every 6 months. Following this plan will see CQC inspect every site within two years.

- read the Guardian coverage
- here's the press release