Written by Laura Wakelam
30 Apr 2021

COVID-19 Vaccine Waste Disposal Guidelines

The waste disposal of Coronavirus vaccines is a new waste consideration for many hospitals and COVID-19 pop up vaccination sites around the country. To support our customers with up-to-date instruction and resources on the disposal of empty vials and syringes or partially used vaccines, we have consolidated our expertize into this breakdown of COVID-19 waste management and supportive resources to ensure your staff are protected, and you have confidence in waste disposal compliance. 



1 / COVID-19 Waste Regulations 

2 / COVID-19 Waste Disposal Guidance 

3 / COVID-19 Vaccine Equipment and Disposal

4 / Dry Ice Disposal Guidelines


COVID-19 Waste Regulations 

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulates the handling of sharps, and states regulate their final disposal. 

OSHA requires that when an immunization is being administered, a sharps container must be located as close as possible to the point of use. 



COVID-19 Waste Disposal Guidance 

All COVID-19 vaccines (Pfizer, Moderna, Johnson/Johnson) are preservative free and classified as non-hazardous medication if not empty or completely administered, however, empty pre-filled syringes, even safety syringes, are considered sharps waste.

Here is a quick breakdown of how all Coronavirus vaccine associated waste should be handled: 

  • Syringes. Used syringes (whether full, empty or partially empty), must be disposed of in an industry approved sharps container and disposed of as regulated medical waste 
  • Empty Vials. The Department of Defense has recommended that all coronavirus vaccine vials should be captured in an approved sharps container to mitigate unauthorized use or diversion. 
  • Full or Non-Empty Vials. Containing a non-hazardous medication (per above description), non-empty vials should be disposed of in a non-hazardous pharmaceutical container 
  • Medical Waste. Any non-sharp items used in the administering of vaccines such as gloves, gauze, bandages or cotton balls do not belong in a sharps container. If these items are considered potentially infectious, they should be disposed of in RMW containers 
  • Vaccine Packaging. Providing the packaging is "empty", this can be disposed of as regulated medical waste. please revert to the instructions provided by your vaccine manufacturer


How to dispose of COVID-19 vaccine waste if: 

* Always check state regulations when disposing of a sharp 


NOTE: Never detach needles from the syringe. While having unused vials of vaccine is not the optimal situation, but disposal of them is necessary, follow the guidance of the manufacturer, the FDA and your state regulation, including your organization’s established policies. Alternatively, reach out to your medical waste disposal provider regarding the best option. 


COVID-19 Vaccine and Equipment Disposal 

Note: Sometimes unused vaccine and diluent doses, unopened vials, expired vials, and potentially compromised vaccine may be returned for credit, even if they must be discarded. Contact the state or local immunization program or the vaccine manufacturer for vaccine-specific information. 

Open and broken vials and syringes, manufacturer-filled syringes that have been activated, and vaccines pre-drawn by providers cannot be returned and should be discarded according to state requirements. 





Dry Ice Disposal Guidelines 

With dry ice being used in the transportation and preservation of COVID-19 vaccines across the country, we want to ensure you are aware of how to safely dispose of dry ice. 


Dry ice changes directly into the gaseous form, it does not “melt” but it sublimates. It takes about 24 hours for a block of dry ice to sublimate completely. Let it sublimate at room temperature in its styrofoam shipping container in an area that is amply ventilated. It is important that no staff are nearby for this process as dry ice is basically compressed carbon dioxide. Do not leave dry ice in unsecured areas. Dry ice in an enclosed space can lead to build-up of carbon dioxide which can result in a potential for suffocation. After the dry ice has sublimated entirely, you must dispose of the container as well as the gloves that were used during the process. 


PPE and Tips for Safe Handling and Disposal of Dry Ice  

  • Wear appropriate eye protection, including goggles and/or a face shield, as well as a laboratory coat 
  • Use tongs to handle dry ice when possible 
  • Use loose-fitting, thermally insulated gloves to manually handle dry ice 
  • Nitrile exam gloves will not provide enough protection 
  • Never handle dry ice with bare hands 





For more information about how to correctly and safely dispose of your Coronavirus vaccine sharps, vials or medical waste, reach out to one of our clinical experts for guidance




Photo attributed to Daniel Schludi

Header Style: 
Laura Wakelam

Laura Wakelam

Chief Marketing Officer

Brand and Communications Curator of Daniels Health global group of companies, Laura is a strong believer in cause-driven brand identity and honest storytelling