Transporting, storing and handling COVID-19 vaccines

Learn how to properly store, transport and handle the different COVID-19 vaccines available in Australia.

Pfizer (Comirnaty) (purple cap, ≥12-year-old formulation)

Storing frozen vials

Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine vials have a shelf life of 15 months at –90°C to –60°C. Vials can be stored at domestic freezer temperatures (–25°C to –15°C) for up to 2 weeks. Vials can be returned to –90°C to –60°C within the original shelf life.

Thawing vials

Frozen vials should be thawed at 2°C to 8°C. A carton of 195 vials needs 3 hours to thaw. Frozen vials can also be thawed at room temperature (up to 30°C) for 30 minutes, for immediate use.

Once thawed, the vaccine should not be re-frozen. See the product information for more details about thawing vials.

Storing thawed vials

After thawing, the shelf life is 31 days at 2°C to 8°C. Undiluted vaccine vials can be stored at up to 30°C for 2 hours (including thawing time).

Vial presentation and dilution

Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine is presented in a multidose vial containing 0.45 mL of undiluted vaccine. It must be reconstituted by diluting with 1.8 mL of sterile 0.9% sodium chloride. Do not use bacteriostatic 0.9% sodium chloride. The total quantity after dilution will be 2.25 mL.

Do not shake the vial.

The vaccine does not contain a preservative. It is preferable to administer vaccine doses immediately after dilution.

Storing diluted vials and vaccine doses

After vial puncture and dilution, the vials and the prepared syringes with the vaccine dose must be kept at 2°C to 30°C and used within 6 hours from the time of dilution. This is in addition to the 2-hour maximum window for storage of an undiluted vial at up to 30°C. Do not freeze the diluted vaccine.

ATAGI recommends that, when possible, pre-drawn doses kept at room temperature should be used within 1 hour to minimise any remote potential risk of infection.

Avoid exposure to light

During storage, minimise exposure to room light. Avoid exposure to direct sunlight and ultraviolet light.

For more information, see the National Vaccine Storage Guidelines Strive for 5.

Pfizer (Comirnaty) – orange cap, 5 to 11 years formulation

Note there are different storage and handling specifications for the 5 to 11 year-old formulation of the Pfizer vaccine.

Storing frozen vials

Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine frozen vials can be stored at either –90°C to –60°C or 2°C to 8°C upon receipt. If the vials are received at 2°C to 8°C, they should be stored at 2°C to 8°C. Unopened vials have a shelf life of 12 months at –90°C to –60°C. Vials have a shelf life of 10 weeks at  2°C to 8°C.

Thawing vials

Frozen vials should be thawed at 2°C to 8°C. A 10-vial pack may take 4 hours to thaw. Frozen vials can also be thawed at room temperature (up to 30°C) for 30 minutes, for immediate use.

Once thawed, the vaccine should not be re-frozen. See the product information for more details about thawing vials.

Storing thawed vials

After thawing, the shelf life of an unopened vial is 10 weeks at 2°C to 8°C. Vaccine may be stored at temperatures between 8ºC to 30ºC for up to 24 hours, including any time at these temperatures following dilution.

Vial presentation and dilution

Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine is presented in a multidose vial containing 1.3 mL of concentrated for suspension for injection vaccine. It must be reconstituted by diluting with 1.3 mL of sterile 0.9% sodium chloride. Do not use bacteriostatic 0.9% sodium chloride. The total quantity after dilution will be 2.6 mL.

Do not shake the vial.

It is preferable to administer vaccine doses immediately after dilution.

Storing diluted vials and vaccine doses

Chemical and physical stability has been shown with storage of Pfizer 5 to 11 years formulation for 12 hours at 2°C to 30°C after initial puncture for dilution. However, because this vaccine contains no antimicrobial preservatives, ATAGI recommends that after vial puncture and dilution, the vials and the prepared syringes with the vaccine dose must be kept at 2°C to 30°C and used within 6 hours from the time of dilution. Do not freeze the diluted vaccine.

ATAGI recommends that, when possible, pre-drawn doses kept at room temperature should be used within 1 hour to minimise any remote potential risk of infection.

Avoid exposure to light

During storage, minimise exposure to room light. Avoid exposure to direct sunlight and ultraviolet light. Thawed vials can be handled in light conditions.

For more information, see the National Vaccine Storage Guidelines Strive for 5.

Pfizer bivalent (Comirnaty original/Omicron BA.1) – grey cap, ≥18-year-old formulation

Storing frozen vials

Pfizer bivalent COVID-19 vaccine vials have a shelf life of 12 months at –90°C to –60°C. Frozen vials can be stored at –90°C to –60°C or 2°C to 8°C upon receipt.

Thawing vials

Frozen vials should be thawed at 2°C to 8°C. A 10-vial pack may take 6 hours to thaw. Frozen vials can also be thawed at room temperature (up to 30°C) for 30 minutes for immediate use. If the vaccine is received at 2°C to 8°C it should be stored at 2°C to 8°C.

Once thawed, the vaccine should not be re-frozen. See the product information for more details about thawing vials.

Storing thawed vials

After thawing, the shelf life is up to 10 weeks at 2°C to 8°C. Vaccine may be stored at temperatures between 8°C to 30°C for up to 24 hours, including any time within these temperatures following first puncture.

Vial presentation and dilution

Pfizer bivalent COVID-19 vaccine is presented in a multidose vial containing 6 doses of 0.3 mL of vaccine and do not require dilution.

Do not shake the vial.

Storing diluted vials and vaccine doses

After vial puncture, the product should be used immediately. Discard any unused vaccine 12 hours after first puncture. Vaccine may be stored at temperatures between 8°C to 30°C for up to 24 hours, including any time within these temperatures following first puncture.

ATAGI recommends that, when possible, pre-drawn doses kept at room temperature should be used within 1 hour to minimise any remote potential risk of infection.

Avoid exposure to light

During storage, minimise exposure to room light. Avoid exposure to direct sunlight and ultraviolet light.

For more information, see the National Vaccine Storage Guidelines Strive for 5.

Spikevax (Moderna)

Storing frozen vials

Moderna COVID-19 200 µg/mL, 100 µg/mL (paediatric formulation) and Moderna bivalent COVID-19 100 µg/mL vaccine vials are stored frozen at –50°C to –15°C in their original carton and protected from light.  Moderna vials cannot be stored at temperatures below –50°C.

Thawing vials

Frozen vials can be thawed at 2°C to 8°C in a refrigerator in 2.5 hours, or at room temperature (15°C to 25°C) in 1 hour.

Thawed vials should not be re-frozen. See the product information for more details about thawing vials. 

Storing thawed vials

Once thawed, the shelf life of an unpunctured vial is 30 days in a refrigerator (2°C to 8°C) protected from light. Of this 30 days, 12 hours can be used for transportation, and 24 hours in storage at 8°C to 25°C. Thawed vials can be handled in room light conditions.

Vial presentation

Moderna COVID-19 200 µg/mL vaccine is presented in multidose vials of 5 mL containing 10 doses of 0.5 mL (20 doses of 0.25 mL). These vials have a red plastic cap.

Moderna COVID-19 100 µg/mL (paediatric formulation) vaccine is presented in multidose vials of 2.5 mL containing 10 doses of 0.25 mL. These vials have a blue plastic cap.

Moderna bivalent COVID-19 100 µg/mL vaccine is presented in multidose vials of either 2.5 mL containing 5 doses of 0.5 mL, or 5 mL containing 10 doses of 0.5 mL. These vials have a blue plastic cap.  Note that the Moderna 6 months to 5 years formulation also has a blue cap. To minimise the risk of administration errors, providers should preferably prepare and store doses of these vaccines separately. Doses withdrawn in advance of administration should be clearly labelled.

Dilution is not required.

Note that the concentration of the Moderna 6 to 11 years formulation and the ≥12 years bivalent formulation are the same, but the concentration of the Moderna ≥12 years original formulation is different.

Administering doses

Swirl the vial gently after thawing and before each withdrawal. Do not shake the vial.

Providers should confirm that the syringe containing the dose is not cold to touch before administration to minimise discomfort from receiving an injection of a chilled product.

Storing opened vials

Chemical and physical stability has been shown with storage of Moderna for 19 hours at 2°C to 25°C after initial puncture. However, because this vaccine contains no antimicrobial preservatives, ATAGI recommends that opened vials should be stored at 2°C to 8°C, and the cumulative storage time of opened vials at 2°C to 25°C should not exceed 6 hours.

ATAGI also recommends that, when possible, pre-drawn doses kept at room temperature should be used within 1 hour to minimise any remote potential risk of infection.

For more information, see the National Vaccine Storage Guidelines Strive for 5.

AstraZeneca (Vaxzevria)

Vial presentation

In Australia, AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine is supplied in multidose vials, with either 8 doses in 4 mL or 10 doses in 5 mL.

Dilution is not required.

Storing unopened vials

Unopened multidose vials should be stored at 2°C to 8°C. Store in the outer carton to protect them from light.

The shelf life of AstraZeneca is 9 months at 2°C to 8°C.

Storing opened vials

Do not shake the vial.

After puncturing the vial for the first time, store the vial either:

  • at room temperature up to 30°C for no more than 6 hours, or
  • in a refrigerator at 2°C to 8°C for no more than 48 hours.

The vial can be re-refrigerated. But after first opening, the cumulative storage time at room temperature must not exceed 6 hours, and the total cumulative storage time must not exceed 48 hours.

Although there are data supporting stability of vaccine doses after withdrawal into a syringe for up to 6 hours at room temperature (as reflected in the AstraZeneca vaccine product information), ATAGI recommends that, when possible, pre-drawn doses kept at room temperature should be used within 1 hour to minimise any remote potential risk of infection.

For more information, see the National Vaccine Storage Guidelines Strive for 5.

Novavax (Nuvaxovid)

In Australia, Novavax COVID-19 vaccine is supplied in multidose vials with 10 doses in 5 mL.

Dilution is not required.

Storing unopened vials

Unopened multidose vials should be stored at 2°C to 8°C. Store in the outer carton to protect them from light.

The shelf life of Novavax is 6 months at 2°C to 8°C.

Unopened vials are stable for up to 12 hours at 25°C, but storage at 25°C is not the recommended storage or shipping condition.

Storing opened vials

Do not shake the vial.

After puncturing the vial for the first time, store the vial at 2°C to 25°C for up to 6 hours. Discard remaining solution after 6 hours.

Data on the stability of pre-drawn doses in syringes is not available for the Novavax COVID-19 vaccine, so storing pre-drawn doses of this vaccine in syringes is not preferred. If pre-drawn doses are used, ATAGI recommends that (where possible) pre-drawn doses in syringes should be used within 1 hour if kept at room temperature, and within 6 hours if kept at 2°C to 8°C. This is to minimise any risk of infection.

For more information, see the National Vaccine Storage Guidelines Strive for 5.

Transporting doses for home visits

When transporting Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca or Novavax COVID-19 vaccines for a home visit, there are 2 options:

  1. Where possible, transport the vial at 2°C to 8°C and not exceeding the total maximum storage period of 6 hours, and draw up the dose at the site of administration.
  2. A pre-drawn dose in a syringe can be transported if it can be appropriately stored (protecting from light and maintaining the cold chain) and can be administered as soon as practicable and not exceeding the total maximum storage period of 1 hour if at room temperature, and within 6 hours if at 2°C to 8°C).

Aspiration of needles prior to administering doses

Some scientific reports have proposed that inadvertent injection of a COVID-19 vaccine into a blood vessel may be a contributing cause of serious adverse events following immunisation, such as thrombosis with thrombocytopenia syndrome (TTS) and myocarditis.

Based on a review of the available evidence, ATAGI does not recommend routinely aspirating (drawing back) needles before injection. This practice was rejected some decades ago, due to several disadvantages including prolonging the procedure, potentially associated pain, and increasing the risk of needle–syringe disconnection.

ATAGI has reviewed the available evidence and considers that injection technique is highly unlikely to be a contributor to these adverse events for several reasons:

  • The majority of TTS cases occur after the first dose of a viral vector vaccine AstraZeneca (Vaxzevria). The majority of myocarditis cases occur after the second dose of an mRNA vaccine such as Pfizer (Comirnaty) or Moderna (Spikevax). If intravascular injection was an important contributor, there would not be a differential distribution of cases by vaccine dose.
  • Direct injection into a blood vessel is unlikely in recommended injection sites.
  • TTS typically occurs some days or even weeks after vaccination, which does not fit with the proposed theory of direct vascular injury which occurs early in animal models.

Recording vaccination

Every administered dose of COVID-19 vaccine must be recorded on the Australian Immunisation Register (AIR).

Recording doses on the AIR helps to:

  • ensure that the correct vaccine and interval are used for the second dose
  • identify people who are due for a second dose
  • verify or provide evidence of completed COVID-19 vaccination.

For more information, see the Services Australia website AIR for health professionals.

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