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COVID-19 Explainer: Are bare hands allowed when administering vaccines?

A health care worker prepares a vaccine syringe at an Alaska event.
A health care worker prepares a vaccine syringe at an Alaska event.((Alaska's News Source))
Published: Aug. 24, 2021 at 5:14 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - As the COVID-19 vaccine manufactured by Pfizer-BioNTech has been fully approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for those 16 and older, there are still many questions about the vaccine, now branded as Comirnaty, and its rollout in the U.S. and here in Alaska.

Over the weekend, Alaska’s News Source covered a vaccine event, and received a complaint about the handling of the vaccine in a video. A person emailed our news room wondering whether a health care worker is allowed to handle a vaccine vial and syringe, and administer the vaccine with bare hands.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Occupational Health and Safety Administration — yes.

The CDC defers to OSHA guidance on whether gloves shall be worn. The safety administration says gloves are not required, unless there is “reasonable anticipation of employee hand contact with blood, other potentially infectious material, mucous membranes, or non-intact skin; when performing vascular access procedures; or when handling or touching contaminated surfaces or items.”

Vascular access includes procedures like IV insertion and catheters, not routine injections like immunizations.

In that guidance, OSHA says if “bleeding is anticipated and the employee is required to clean the site following injection,” that gloves must be worn, or if the patient’s skin is abraded.

The CDC’s guidelines for administering vaccines specifically say that gloves are not required for vaccinations, but that hands should be cleaned with an alcohol-based waterless antiseptic hand rub or washed with soap and water. Those steps should be taken “before preparing vaccines for administration and between each patient contact.”

In all situations, “Persons administering vaccinations should follow appropriate precautions to minimize risk for disease exposure and spread,” the CDC rules say.

Alaska’s News Source reached out to the Anchorage Health Department and Alaska Department of Health and Social Services to ask guidance from a health professional familiar with administering vaccines. Neither agency had someone available for an interview, but the Anchorage Health Department shared the CDC and OSHA guidance.

The Anchorage Health Department also shared a guidance sheet from the State of Washington specifically regarding the COVID-19 vaccine, which gives the same guidance. The sheet also notes that if gloves are worn, they must be changed in between each patient, and can’t be washed.

When preparing vaccines to be given, the CDC says they should be drawn up in a designated clean medication area that is not adjacent to areas where potentially contaminated items are placed. While the guidance from the body’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices discourages the routine practice of pre-filling vaccines, it says in cases where a single vaccine type is being used, filing fewer than 10 syringes ahead of time may be considered, but they should be administered by the same person who filled them.

Do you have questions about COVID-19 or the vaccines? Email questions@ktuu.com and we’ll work to get the answer for you.

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