Disposing of vaccine vials, syringes, needles | Inquirer Opinion
Human Face

Disposing of vaccine vials, syringes, needles

Before I go into today’s subject matter, may I ask the question many people, lawmakers among them, are asking: With all the billions the government borrowed, where are the vaccines? Or more of them?

Prodded by President Duterte in last Monday’s nocturnal briefing, Finance Secretary Carlos Dominquez III gave a long-winded but befuddling slide presentation (that could not be seen on TV) that boiled down to an answer: The money is in the banks, not in the hands of the government. Short of saying, the billions have not been stolen, as if it is of any consolation.


For heaven’s sake, so what is the answer to the question: Where are the vaccines? Or more of them?

Looking forward to the long-awaited mass vaccination that we all hope would happen sooner than soon, I wish I would be allowed to keep, as a piece of memorabilia or frippery, the vaccine vial whose contents would be injected into my system. That would be one vial less to be disposed of.


I have not heard any environmental group hereabouts raising the subject of how to dispose of the millions of used vaccine vials, syringes, and needles. Remember how used COVID-19 test kits were found strewn about somewhere in Metro Manila after they fell off a regular garbage collection vehicle where they shouldn’t be?

When I think of the world’s almost 8 billion population or, say, just three-fourths of that, to be vaccinated twice (or only once with a certain vaccine brand) that would still mean a staggering 3 or 4 billion or so vaccine vials (if one vial is good for several vaccinees), 10 billion syringes, and 10 billion needles—a whole mountain of them—to be disposed of. Where will they go? Will they be incinerated, recycled, buried, or simply go the way of regular hospital waste?

In very remote areas, what will be the process of disposal? Do the vaccines come with a manual on how the used vials, syringes, and needles are to be safely disposed of? In big city hospitals and laboratories, there is a way of disposing hospital waste including amputated limbs and excised soft tissues, body fluids, diseased organs, tumors, cysts, and other unwanted growths in humans. Sounds gross, but there sure is a way that we do not know about.

But in this age of disposables that are nonrecyclables, it is worrisome to think of where so-called “vaccine-related wastes” will end up. Is incineration, which is abhorred by environmentalists, the only way?

A “waste services” website I looked up says that syringes, needles, and empty vaccine vials should be placed in an FDA-approved “sharps” container. Images of sharps are shown and I recognize them as the ones I see in laboratories where patients go for tests. “These containers are made from rigid, puncture-proof plastic and prevent injury and spread of infectious waste. Never discard needles or other sharp objects in the trash or loose into the biohazardous waste box/container.”

It is consoling to know that the COVID-19 vaccine is not hazardous and does not contain any viral material. (Oh, I thought it did.) “If you have leftover doses of vaccine that have been compromised or not, they may be disposed of in accordance with state regulation requirements for non-hazardous pharmaceuticals. Generally non-hazardous pharmaceutical waste containers are white with blue lids.”

“If your facility is administering the Pfizer vaccine, the vial trays it is stored on should be disposed of in the red bag, biohazardous waste box/container. However, be sure to check local/state laws, protocols, and disposal policies before placing vial trays in the biohazardous waste box/container.


“The SARS-CoV-2 mRNA vaccine is packaged in a ‘cold box’ and is equipped with tracking devices that need to be returned to the manufacturer. Follow the vaccine manufacturer’s guidelines for what items need to be returned, and how the items should be returned to the manufacturer.”

Having read all that and other related stuff besides, I am now wondering whether the government—local and national—have environmental consultants overseeing the proper disposal of vaccine-related wastes, or shall we again wait to be alarmed when we see them strewn about? Used, soiled face masks left on sidewalks are not uncommon, like condiment and shampoo sachets, like plastic bags with straws and leftover drinks in them.

So are we ready to receive the vaccines and know how to dispose of the vaccine-related waste safely and properly? Something tells me we are not.

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TAGS: COVID-19 vaccines, Human Face, Ma. Ceres P. Doyo, medical waste
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