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New COVID vaccine labels, caps nearly identical to old shots; doctors worry about mix-ups

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Posted at 7:26 AM, Sep 14, 2022
and last updated 2022-09-14 07:37:35-04

TAMPA, Fla.  — According to health experts, color coding on vaccines is important to help differentiate them.

“Usually, they make them look as different as possible,” said Dr. Nicolette Mathey, Pharmacist and Owner of Palm Harbor Pharmacy.

However, this time around, with the updated COVID-19 boosters, it’s not as clear.

“Unfortunately, the drug manufacturers, the vaccine manufacturers, didn’t do a significant change on the labeling or the cap colors on the vaccines,” said Dr. David Berger, Board Certified Pediatrician at Wholistic Pediatrics and Family Care.

“The Pfizer vaccine that’s coming out for 12 and older, booster, bivalent has a gray cap just like the regular monovalent original Pfizer vaccine for COVID,” said Mathey.

Because the color of Pfizer’s labels and caps on the new shot is the same as the old one, the vials are almost identical.

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“I was surprised that Pfizer put a gray cap on the new one, same as the old one,” said Mathey.

Moderna’s new booster has a dark blue cap and their pediatric vaccine also has the same cap color.

“The new one is similar to the kids' version of it,” said Berger.

ABC Action News reached out to Pfizer and Moderna to get answers.

Moderna sent this statement:

“Moderna’s updated bivalent booster and pediatric vaccines have different labeling to differentiate the products. The bivalent booster has a dark blue cap and grey border; the pediatric vaccine has a dark blue cap and magenta border. The vials are multidose, so once the cap is removed, the label remains on the product for identification.”

Pfizer sent this statement:

“Pfizer ships the doses according to the country's preferred channel to designated vaccination locations, following relevant regulatory authorizations, monitoring the temperature and location 24/7 during the shipment. Once the vaccines are received and accepted by the designated facility or point of use, the facility is responsible for storage and administration. Healthcare professionals administering any vaccine should adhere to the prescribing information and report any adverse events to the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System. Pfizer and BioNTech are continuing to use the gray cap color for the Omicron BA.4/BA.5-adapted bivalent COVID-19 vaccine booster vials for ages 12 years and older as it has the most recent formulation which does not require dilution. The labels on the packaging will indicate that it is the bivalent vaccine to help healthcare providers distinguish from the original.”

However, it’s the color similarities that have some doctors worried it could lead to errors and people getting the wrong vaccines if doctors have to rely on reading the fine print.

“In a busy practice, we know drug mistakes happen. It’s unfortunate, but we know that it happens. It is ridiculous that the manufacturers didn’t have the foresight to recognize that they just needed to change the color of a label and a top to avoid this from happening,” said Berger.

“So when a provider goes to grab the bottle, I mean yeah, there are things you can do like if you have two different refrigerators that you can store them in, you know that could work. Hopefully, you’re looking at the labels if you have enough staff members, you can have a second person verify what you’re doing. But in smaller communities, smaller offices, that’s not always possible,” he added.

Local places like Palm Harbor Pharmacy tell ABC Action News they are taking extra steps to avoid any mistakes.

“We’re used to things being the same and having processes to make sure that no errors are made,” said Mathey.

“I mean, we look at the NDC code, which is an 11-digit unique code, we scan a barcode. We have a ton of checks and balances in the pharmacy. We have a really robust color coding system,” she added.

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