New Barcodes on Vaccines Enhance Safety of the US Immunization System, Save Millions

Newswise — RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C. – Using two-dimensional barcodes on vaccine product labels would enhance the safety of the U.S. immunization system and save more than $300 million by 2023, according to a study by researchers at RTI International and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention.

"Our study shows how changing something as simple as how vaccine product labels are barcoded can mitigate documentation problems and increase the safety of the immunization system," said Alan O'Connor, a senior economist at RTI and the paper's lead author. "And thanks to advances in technology, from the perspective of the immunization system, it's now cheaper to use 2D barcodes than not use them."

Immunization providers are required by the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act to record the vaccine and lot information for vaccines administered to patients. Although product labels have had linear barcodes, those barcodes only contained the National Drug Code. Providers still had to record the lot number and expiration date by hand—essential information in the event of a product recall or locating patients having received recalled lots—but that information is often missing or inaccurate in records. 
Two-dimensional barcodes can contain the National Drug Code, expiration date and lot number in a symbol small enough to fit on a label appearing on a 0.5mL vial.

The 2D barcode can be scanned to verify it matches doctors' orders and automatically populate records with the required product information. In conjunction with electronic health records, 2D barcodes make it easier to enter immunizations into registries.

The study, published in the June issue of Vaccine found that implementing 2D barcodes on vaccines will enhance the accuracy of the data, lower the burden of documenting immunizations, and increase the probability of being able to locate a patient should a vaccine be recalled.

The results also showed that between 2011 and 2023 the net economic benefits from switching vaccines to using 2D barcodes were forecasted to be between $310 and $334 million.

The researchers surveyed more than 3,600 primary care providers and found that 60 percent of pediatric practices, 54 percent of family medicine practices and 39 percent of health departments would use the 2D barcode. More indicated they would use the barcode if they used electronic health records.