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COVID-19 vaccinations prompt CDC guidance on sharps disposal

Photo: Jodi Jacobson/iStockphoto

Washington — Two new fact sheets from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are intended to help health care workers, managers and purchase agents ensure the safe handling and disposal of sharps during the nation’s COVID-19 mass vaccination effort.

The agency defines a sharps injury as “a penetrating stab wound from a needle, scalpel or other sharp object that may result in exposure to blood or other body fluids.” Around 385,000 sharps-related injuries occur in health care facilities each year, according to CDC, which notes that as many as half of these injuries go unreported.

An American Nurses Association survey found that 31% of nurses face a “significant level of risk” for bloodborne pathogen exposure.

After administering a vaccine, workers should engage any safety feature and immediately place the sharp in a disposal container that is closable, puncture resistant, leakproof on the bottom and sides, and biohazard labeled or color coded. Workers should keep a container within arm’s reach and in a secure, upright position. Containers should be filled only to the clearly marked fill line. If a container doesn’t have a fill line, discontinue use once it’s three-quarters full.

Overfilled containers, CDC says, increase the risk of a needlestick injury and bloodborne pathogen exposure.

“Health care facilities and COVID-19 vaccination sites must use sharps disposal containers that meet OSHA Bloodborne Pathogens standard (1910.1030) requirements to dispose of contaminated needles and other sharps,” one of the fact sheet states. “Use Food and Drug Administration-cleared containers whenever possible.”


If a shortage of FDA-approved disposal containers should occur, managers and purchase agents should help conserve containers by considering the use of reusable sharps containers, as well as encouraging workers to:

  • Place only sharps in the containers.
  • Dispose of uncontaminated non-sharps in a standard trash can.
  • Avoid removing, recapping, breaking, bending or separating contaminated needles before discarding them in a container.

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