Nurse practitioner and physician assistant perceptions on administration of flu vaccine in the retail clinic



Today, injectable vaccines are packaged in two types of containers: (1) vials, either a multi-dose or single-dose; or (2) pre-filled syringes, those filled by the vaccine manufacturer. Vials require manipulation or transfer of the vaccine into an injection device while a pre-filled syringe is supplied as a unit-dose, ready-to-administer syringe. Vials have a total of 12 preparation steps, whereas a pre-filled syringe has a total of four preparation steps. The reduction in number of preparation steps has numerous efficiency and potential worker and patient safety implications.

Additionally, the setting for immunizations in the United States is rapidly changing, as evidenced by more people being immunized in nontraditional settings, most notably in retail-based environments. In the 2010-2011 influenza immunization campaign, approximately 18.5% of adults ages 18 years and older were vaccinated in a retail setting.1

The impact of vaccine packaging has recently been studied in traditional immunization venues.

During the 2009-2010 flu immunization campaign, a time and motion study by Pereira and Bishai of The Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health concluded the choice of vaccine packaging will have an impact on the efficiency of the immunization process.2 More specifically, by measuring the difference in preparation time, the study estimated that for every 100 vaccine doses prepared for injection, about one hour of clinician time could be saved by using pre-filled syringes as opposed to multi-dose vials. The economic implication of this efficiency saved about $1.10/dose, excluding the acquisition cost of the vaccine.2 A complete cost analysis would need to factor in not only acquisition costs of the vaccines, but also the opportunity cost of lost clinician or pharmacist time and, in the unlikely event of a safety mishap, any potential costs related to those events. Finally, the study also concluded that when using multi-dose vials there is an increase in potential for problems. The problems cited in the study are also consistent with those indicated by the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Disease and include, but are not limited to vaccine waste, bacterial contamination, administration errors, storage under inappropriate conditions and reduced vaccine potency.3

In 2011, the Convenient Care Association was interested in studying the impact of vaccine packaging in a retail clinic setting and conducted a pilot program. The pilot program looked at the perceptions of nurse practitioners and physician assistants working in 31 retail health clinics operated by The Little Clinic regarding the preparation and administration of flu vaccine via pre-filled syringes versus multi-dose vials. By assessing providers’ perceptions only, this study differs from Pereira and Bishai’s time-motion study, which recorded actual time and use differences between pre-filled syringes and vials. Below is a discussion of how NPs and PAs perceive providing flu vaccine with pre-filled syringes versus multi-dose vials.

Qualitative survey

Twenty qualitative phone interviews were conducted with nurse practitioners and physician assistants at The Little Clinic convenient care clinics after they had administered at least ten injections with pre-filled syringes. The normal method of administration is multi-dose vials. The qualitative interviews elicited the following themes:


  1. Pre-filled syringes were more efficient because they were quicker, simpler, and more convenient to use and involved fewer steps;

  2. Having a fine gauge needle already attached to the pre-filled syringe would increase efficiency;

  3. Providers liked the ease of recording vaccine administration with pre-printed pull-off labels with lot numbers; and

  4. Multi-dose vials take up much less storage space.


  1. Pre-filled syringes are safer, ensuring correct dose and correct vaccine;

  2. Provider needle sticks can happen with both methods of delivering vaccine. Withdrawing from a multi-dose vial increases the risk of provider needle sticks, as ideally the needle is changed between withdrawing from the multi-dose vial and injecting the vaccine, with a needle being uncapped twice and disposed of twice;

  3. With multi-dose vials, there is an opportunity to contaminate the vaccine; and

  4. Some patients request pre-filled syringes for the added assurance of the correct medication and the correct dose.


  1. Pain is not impacted by presentation of flu vaccine administration;

  2. Pain is impacted by gauge of needle used to administer vaccine;

  3. Patients have reported vaccines hurt or burn with both methods of administration;

  4. Patients, especially children, appeared less stressed, anxious or apprehensive with pre-filled syringes, than when vaccine is withdrawn from a multi-dose vial in front of them; and

  5. Most providers prefer pre-filled syringes over multi-dose vials, although some providers that had more experience using the syringes associated with multi-dose vials reported greater familiarity and comfort with these syringes.

Written surveys

Fifty-eight written surveys were completed by providers at The Little Clinic convenient care clinics who administer flu vaccine to the public, after they had administered at least 10 injections with pre-filled syringes versus their normal method of administration using multi-dose vials. The survey questions were answered by placing an X on a visual analog scale that consisted of a 10-cm horizontal line. “Pre-filled syringe” was written at the far left side of the 10-cm horizontal line and “multi-dose vial” at the far right side of the line. The mid-point of the line was marked as neutral. When scored, the Xs were given numbers of 5, 4, 3, 2 or 1, defined by where they fell within the line, which was divided into five equal sections. The Xs were scored as 5 or 4, if on the first or second section of the line on the left (indicating pre-filled syringes). The Xs were scored as 3 or neutral if they were in the middle or third section of the line, and 2 or 1 if on the fourth or fifth section of the line (indicating multi-dose vials). The percent, the mean (the average) and the mode (most frequent) follow for each of the questions:

The first three questions on the survey addressed operations:

  • Eighty-four percent indicated pre-filled syringes are more efficient with a mean of 4.4 and a mode of 5.

  • Sixty-two percent indicated pre-filled syringes provide a better likelihood of accuracy and reduce the possibility of recording incorrect information with a mean of 4.1 and a mode of 5.

  • Eighty-nine percent indicated multi-dose vials use less storage space with a mean of 1.6 and a mode of 1.

The next three survey questions addressed safety:

  • Seventy-six percent indicated pre-filled syringes were safer for the patient, ensuring correct dose and correct vaccine with a mean of 4.3 and a mode of 5.

  • Sixty-four percent indicated pre-filled syringes reduced the chance of needle sticks to the provider with a mean of 4.1 and a mode of 5.

  • Ninety-five percent indicated pre-filled syringes have a lower probability of contamination with a mean of 4.7 and mode of 5.

The last three questions on the survey addressed preference/experience:

  • Ninety-three percent perceived neit
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